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Jerry Hayes

Labour must choose whether it wants to exterminate the Lib Dems or Woo them. It can’t do both.

August 23rd, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

How appropriate that at a time when astronomers warn us not to look for life in outer space but for sentient machines, Labour leadership candidates stagger from turgid press release to dreary Fabian meetings like extras from Shaun of the Dead; but without the jokes. Why do these normally sane people behave in such an irrational way? David Miliband, in a poor imitation of some ghastly instructor from Ladettes to Ladies, patronises party workers to give their filthy working class hovels a damn good vacuum before they are in a fit state to watch a dumbed down DVD of the great man pontificate. And little  Ed, like a Dalek on crack, but without the charm, urges the extermination of  the Liberal Democrats. To be fair to the poisonous Balls, at least he is inviting them to join the Party before having them interned, tortured and shot. And the turncoats should be pathetically grateful for even that.  Today, he launches his plan to save the Mail.  This man has become so ruthlessly authoritarian one wonders whether he was referring to the Daily Mail. Yet on the left, only the Guardian’s Jackie Ashley,  has had the courage to write the unpalatable truth: Labour has become the nasty party. It really has to make up its mind how to deal with the Lib Dems, they have to decide whether to destroy them or woo them. You can’t do both.

These defection stories are now veering on the infantile. The latest, that Mike Hancock will soon be in the warm embrace/death hug of Labour bears a little scrutiny. We are told that he has been in talks with none other than Dennis Skinner!  Firstly, a visceral hatred of all thing Liberal Democrat runs though his veins; it’s in his DNA. He would rather bite his own head off than be seen with one.  Secondly, Skinner has as much influence with Labour high command as the President of Europe  has with Bill Cash. And lastly and rather sadly, the poor old boy has been gaga for rather a long time. So the Hancock/Skinner story is pure fantasy.

Of course this is a tough time for Nick Clegg and his Party. But he must surely see that a bored and hungry press and a ruthless and desperate Labour party  will want  to goad them into doing something rash. And the nearer we get to the Lib Dem conference the more insane the allegations will become. The more fevered the stories, the more jittery the rank and file.

But is the Lib Dem split markedly different from the right and left in the Tories or the Modernisers and Neanderthals in  Labour?  Of course not. Are they being used and abused by Cameron and his dark forces of vicious Thatcherism as a human shield?  Don’t be daft. All major arguments in this government are not between Tories and Lib Dems. They are between to warring factions within the Conservatives. The reason the right of the Tory Party and the chancers of Labour despise and want to destroy this coalition is because it works. And what  really brings these people to a frenzy is the that the public approve.

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Like a Benjamin Britten opera, Simon Hughes is not always as bad as he sounds; but the Kennedy problem has to be addressed.

August 21st, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

Nick Clegg’s relationship with Simon Hughes is not unlike the dilemma that every parent has when dealing with a small child who refuses to be potty trained. Day after day, you sit them on the bloody thing and day after day they scream, shout,  cry and yet still manage to poo all over the floor, just to wind you up.  So what do you do? Are you patient, understanding and just keep trying?  Do offer little inducements like gold stars and sweets? Or do you just give them a hearty clip round the ear?  So far, Clegg is being sensibly and remarkably, understanding. Yes, Simon, we know you like to shout, scream, throw your toys out of the pram and poo on the floor, but we understand; it’s part of growing up. It’s just a phase you are going through.  So he clears up the mess, pats the boy on the head and awaits the next little accident.

But Simon Hughes is an irritant rather than a problem. Many Lib Dems, accept that he probably has a bit of a point, but the the Munchean Scream method tends to shed more heat than light. Yet, like an opera by Benjamin Britten, he is not always as bad as he sounds. Hughes is tolerated as a sort of in-house conscience on mind bending substances.

However, I do worry about Charles Kennedy, both as a politician and more importantly, as a human being and friend.  We were both elected together in 1983 as very young men; him twenty three, me 29. We appeared on and presented, countless television and radio shows. He is a man of decency, vision and honour and presented the face of pragmatic, non tribal politics with a human face, when Cameron and Clegg were at school. So if anyone is the embodiment off  what this coalition is all about, it is Charlie. Yet, there were rumblings about his unhappiness even when the Coalition was just a twinkle in his leader’s eye. Why?

I do hope that his real friends and not the political chancers that inhabit the sewers of Westminster, are keeping careful and caring eye on him. The break up with his wife, no matter how amicable, must be a terrible strain and not seeing his son every day, sheer agony. When you are fighting demons, the worst possible scenario is returning to an empty flat and gazing in the half light at the siren bottle of amber poison. Just one drink. Just one. But it never is.

But why are rumours gaining currency that he is about to defect to Labour?Perhaps it was as a result of a careless private comment at a moment of extreme frustration. Like Ming Campbell, Kennedy was the victim and the eventual  human sacrifice for political expediency. It was nasty, mean and mostly unfair. Welcome to top level politics. The irony was that he never really wanted the leadership.  A long, long time ago, over a few drinks, I asked him if he really wanted the job. He looked at me with a sad shrug. “What choice do I have?”.  Of course, he had none. To fail to stand after the resignation of Ashdown, would have been seen as a betrayal. I often wonder whether that sad shrug was because he knew that being leader would sow the seeds of his own destruction. But I genuinely fear that Kennedy is about to be exploited by unscrupulous power brokers fanning the dying embers of Labour and the tiny minority of Lib Dem Luddites who to want to blow the Coalition apart, and go back to the good old days of wild and woolly opposition. Unless, he makes a personal clear and unequivocal statement soon, in other words, in time for the Sunday newspapers, gossip and rumour will dominate the news right up to the most important party conference the Lib Dems have ever had. The consequences, though not fatal, would be very damaging. In the unlikely event of him defecting to Labour it would be an unwholesome and unpleasant freak show, where a decent man in need of help, would have every last drop of political advantage ripped out of him before being thrown, eviscerated of honour and friends, onto the bonfire of the inanities. I can’t see that happening. What is more likely, is that he will maintain a brooding silence which will cast him into another unwanted role: leader of the plotters. Charles Kennedy is a talented politician whose plain speaking and human frailties endear him to the public. Unless Clegg makes use of these considerable talents and welcomes him into the family, there will be blood.

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Labour, the Marie Celeste of British politics, has hoisted the skull and Crossbones with a whiff of cordite and plunder in the air.

June 27th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

For weeks the Labour Party has been the Marie Celeste of British politics. Some believe they were just a legend and never existed. Wilder folk claim to have stumbled upon them looming out of the mists. Others say they that have clambered aboard the hulk floating aimlessly on the high seas, only to find places set to eat, but not a sign of the crew. This they found an eerie and unsettling experience. Many are still in therapy. But suddenly, a wind has filled those lifeless sails, the skull and crossbones has been hoisted, the gun deck hatches are flying open; there is a whiff of cordite and plunder in the air. At last Labour have found something to fight, to hate, to vilify. In one enormous, united primal scream of loathing, frustration  bitterness and perceived betrayal, they concentrate their fire on the Lib Dems. Of course, they haven’t get locked on to the the fact the the public have always despised Party Politics almost as much  as the politicians.

It is now great sport for a carefully whipped Labour claque to jeer and humiliate these poor devils in the Commons and in the media. This morning even my old chum Tom Watson, tweeted that Clegg was the, “child of Thatcher”. Well, if he  was, she’d have put him out for adoption years ago and handed back the child benefit to some charity in support of General Pinochet. And it will get worse. Ed Balls, spluttering bile and hatred, as only Gordon Brown’s creator could, is organising the mad, bad and deluded to take to the streets to bring down the coalition over its hike in VAT. You wouldn’t have thought that he was a key member of  a government that, two years ago, was going to do exactly the same. Treasury ministers had signed off the increase, but changed their minds a few days before the budget. The trouble is they left it on the website. But don’t let the truth ruin a depressing story.

Yet, our hearts must go out to the Guardian group and the Independent who urged their readers to desert Labour and vote Lib dem in the hope of destroying the Tories. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be hysterical with laughter. Even the splendid Andrew Rawnsley wrote a piece today about the, “worm of anxiety” running through the Lib Dems. Well, that worm has turned. And please, say a prayer for the repose of the political soul on the Sindy, who wrote an appallingly researched confection about a, “secret deal”, with Labour to defeat the Budget. Jane Merrick, very sensibly, kept her byline well clear of that little turkey.

But for anyone who had any niggling fears about cracks in the coalition stories, they should have watched Vince Cable, the weather vane of the Lib Dem conscience, on Andrew Marr. This is the man whom every journo  is desperate to portray as an Osborne hating, Coalition denying, lefty, who can’t wait to extricate himself from this putrid alliance. Not only did Cable give a straight answer to every question, he made it quite clear that his Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes wasn’t going to try and amend the Finance Bill. He was the equivalent to a political breath of fresh air.

It reminded me of a quiz show I helped put together with the legendary broadcaster, Ed Boyle, for Carlton TV. Ed, like most people of genius, is quite mad. He does have a habit of trying to set my hair on fire at social occasions when I am least expecting it. And he is quite mischievous at trying to put broadcasters off their stride. Once, when I was doing a live piece about dangerous dogs, I heard a yelping and barking in the studio and then felt something biting my ankles, it was Ed. I fell apart. And once, when the splendid Peter Spencer, now with SKY, was addressing the nation, Ed did his best to make him corpse. First,he took down his trousers and farted. To no avail. Then he extracted his dick and waved it around. Stoically, Spencer ploughed on.

But, back to the quiz show, “A Kick in the Ballots”. Charlie Kennedy was in the chair, Neil Kinnock and myself on opposing teams. One of the games devised by Ed was, ” U Turn”. Basically, a team member was given a position to argue and then when Charlie shouted, ” U turn” , that’s exactly what they had to do, turn their previous argument on its head. The politicians did it  so utterly seamlessly, it was rather scary to watch. It was taken off air after two episodes.

Yet,  although both members of the Coalition are able to turn an argument on its head, the public don’t find it scary at all. Ironically, if the polls are to be believed, they find it rather reassuring. So come on Labour hopefuls, “U Turn!” You know it will be effortless.

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The Lib Dems, as well as being a welcome conscience to the Tories, have earned power by understanding restraint

June 25th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

Despite the fact that some Tory MPs pay good money for it, discipline is not all that popular in the Commons and has never been fashionable with the Lib Dems. But without it, government is paralysed, and leadership is merely running just ahead of the mob. You just have to have a strong Whip’s Office with an effective intelligence service. Gone are the days of the thuggery of the Labour strongmen like Michael Cox and Bob Mellish. They had to deal with tough working men from the Unions who would think nothing of flooring a colleague in argument and would give as good as they got. I can remember, before cctv was installed in the chamber, witnessing the delightfully deranged Ron Brown smashing the mace. In mid debate, Deputy Chief Whip, Don Dixon, an enormous man built like a bull, looked him straight in the eye, thumped him hard in the stomach, threw him over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and took him into a corridor to give him a good talking to. Nobody batted an eyelid. And then there was the legendary Walter Harrison. He thoroughly disapproved of drunkeness and sexual shenanigans on overseas trips, locking MPs in their hotel rooms after eleven. He once exploded when he heard that someone was abroad when he should have been voting. “Get me the bastard” he screamed. The MP eventually phoned him. “And where the fuck are you son?”   “Well, actually”, said the quivering wretch, “I’m in Crete”. “Well, if you’re not back for the vote lad, you’ll be in fucking concrete”. He returned.

The Tories had their moments too. Sir Spencer Marchant, a delightful and very wealthy drunk, spied one of his charges creeping out of the Stephens, before an important vote. Puce with rage, he chased after the fellow and kicked him down the stairs with a, “don’t you think I don’t know what you’re up to you little shit”. Sadly, it was the Peruvian Ambassador on his way home from dinner with the Foreign Secretary.  And then there was the wonderful, twenty five stone figure of David Lightbown, known as the caring whip. There was a much exaggerated account of fisticuffs between us after I had led a rebellion on a standing committee. What really happened was, after a salty altercation involving talk of sex and travel, he gave me a gentle dig in the ribs and in return I gave him a playful knee in the groin. All very grown up.

But it is all much subtler nowadays. There will always be a Beria like presence at every meeting, every department, the Tea room, the dining rooms, the bars. These shadowy figure will be soaking up the mood, noting the little betrayals, listening to the weasels, flattering the vain and bribing the ambitious. And watching the political Meercats sniffing the air for advantage. There will always be those who will sell their souls for a red box.

I would be lying if I did not admit to stunned amazement at how well The Coalition is holding together. Of course, it’s early days and Labour  is leaderless. My greatest fear was that the Lib Dems would be totally unwhippable and as unpredictable and capricious as Terry Wogan’s toupe . The first real test was newly elected Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes’s bit of bonkery in saying that they could make amendments to the Budget. Well that didn’t last for long. You could almost feel the Chief Whip applying the pressure to his left gonad as, the “clarification” was written within a couple of hours. All a terrible misunderstanding, “No plans to amend…….purely hypothetical….blah, blah,blah”. The Kremlinologists should inspect this with  care. It shows that the Lib Dems are in for the long haul. Not only are they becoming a very welcome conscience for the Tories, but they have shown that they have earned power by understanding the importance of restraint. The Labour leadership contenders should be very, very, worried.

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