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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Giving Credit to the politicians with backbone

People moan about the declining standards of politicians - who do seem to have reached the bottom in the “reputation” league tables.
But do we understand why? What can we do about it? And do we properly recognize the minority of politicians who buck the trend and have in fact some moral fibre?

Labour politician Austin Mitchell was in the headlines last week with an attack on drug companies. He is a one of the very few Labour politicians I have had any time for …..He was an academic before being elected in the late 1970s for a fishing town after the tragic death of the sitting MP - Labour’s Foreign Secretary of the time Anthony Crosland. 
Anyone making the “Case for Labour” in a Penguin Special in 1983 (as Mitchell then proceeded to do) when the party was tearing itself apart had to be very special. The state it was then in was the major factor dissuading me from fighting the parliamentary seat in my home town when it was then offered to me (it didn’t stop Gordon Brown or Tony Blair, however, both of whom took their seats in the General Election of that year)
Mitchell went on serve Parliament and constituency well (at one stage actually changing his name to Fillett as part of a campaign to save the fishing industry) and to write several books. One of these – How to succeed in politics without being Really Trying - is reviewed here by one of the other “originals” left on the Labour benches - Paul Flynn

Mitchell was bright and articulate – and party bosses don’t like that – so he never saw Ministerial office. Last month Mitchell announced his intention to stand down from Parliament after 40 years’ of service. His maverick style led too many to dismiss him. But it is such originality, energy and commitment that Parliaments everywhere need!

People like Austin Mitchell threaten the bosses who groom candidates for office – on the basis either of their family or other connections.
I became and remained a successful candidate for office simply because I cultivated my constituents – the people who lived in my area……
And, in my lifetime, I have seen the power shift into the hands of the political bosses – particularly in Britain where the generally unassailable position of Prime Minister gives dangerous power of patronage.
But it is more than just the power of the political parties – generally with their state funding. The media are also responsible – for giving coverage only to the leaders of parties – as are their readers who encourage the triviality with which politics is dealt these days.

So forgive me for celebrating some of those who, in their day, gave us reason to proud to be democrats – and with persevering with the question of how we might retrieve the situation.

I wrote recently about John McIntosh who was my tutor in the early 60s – a time I was picked out to visit the home of Hugh Gaitskell, Leader of the Labour opposition until his tragically early death. In 1970 I was election agent for left-wing Norman Buchan – who was a real treasure – never really surrendering his quiet schoolmaster style.
Through Norman and my growing status in the Scottish Labour movement I met quite a few MPs in the 1970s…. including Willie Ross, Donald Dewar - both Leaders of the Scottish Labour Party at different times – as well as John Smith, Leader of the British Labour Party, until his tragically early death in the 1990s.
Donald Dewar – who was a great Labour Whip - also died when he had just attained the office of First Minister of the newly established Scottish Parliament. 

So many brilliant and committed people cut off in the prime of their lives (also John McIntosh and Robin Cook) – compared with such useless dross which survives into their dotage….
Jo Grimond – the Leader in the 1970s of the Liberal Party – was also a Scottish MP with whom I had close contact for a few years by virtue of his support for a community project with which I was associated. And then, of course, Tony Benn who died in January at the grand age of 88….

All were greats……People such as Tam Dalyell and Dennis Healey (in their 80s and 90s), Tony Wright, Chris Mullin (in their 60s) are all retired now.

These are the MPs I respected……. Healey, of course, was one of the greatest – the other 3 in that list had decided at an early stage that they did not “have what it took” to achieve major Ministerial office (that being, variously flattery; stupidity; ambition) and decided to concentrate on other (generally better) aspects of parliamentary life…
So amongst all the cynicism and whinging - let us pay proper tribute - and do more to ensure that these are the sort who get credit......

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