Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sunday Joint

The capacity of politicians to convince themselves that everyone else is stupid and will believe any garbage they tell them never ceases to amaze me.
A small but breathtaking example was in yesterday's Guardian feature on Alan Milburn.

It's always mentioned that Milburn once ran a left-wing bookshop in Newcastle - as far as I know, the only thing he ever ran before he ran the NHS. I visited this shop a few times in the eighties. It was a very poky little place in a street that I think also boasted both a pawn shop and a porn shop. The bookshop was called Days of Hope and as all the cuttings on Milburn reveal, it was nicknamed Haze of Dope - a rather neat Geordie Spoonerism.
But in the Guardian interview, Milburn claims that this nickname referred to 'dopiness' in the sense of 'stupidity' rather than being a reference to drugs.
Yeah right, Alan.
Just how fucking stupid, or doped up, do you think we'd have to be to believe that one?

So, Farewell Then, Sunny Jim

The death has occurred of Jim Callaghan, a farmer from East Sussex. In the late seventies he moonlighted as Prime Minister - a dirty job but someone had to do it.
Sunny Jim was a ruthless, right-wing, trade unionist Labour politician. He spent so much of his life in smoke-filled rooms that, if passive smoking was as dangerous as we are told, he should never have lived to the age of 93.
But there was also a homespun quality to Callaghan. Homespun and resolutely unspun. It's a measure of what has happened to our politics that we can look back now and regard the avuncular Callaghan as a paragon of honesty and integrity.
Not that there was no spinning or cynicism back in 1979. In the election of that year there was a photo-opportunity of Callaghan coming out of church holding hands with his grand-daughters. On a Private Eye cover, one of the little girls is saying "I didn't know you believed in God, Grandad." Callaghan is replying "Once every five years I do."

Today, when the conventional wisdom is that university is essential to your future success, even if it's only a degree in Stationery Procurement in the Public Sector, it's useful to note that Callaghan left school at 14 yet became the only person in British political history to hold every great office of State.
Callaghan's low point was singing 'There I was, waiting at the church' in his Labour Conference speech. Silly old fool, everyone thought. Yet there was something endearing about it - like an aged uncle emarrassing everyone at a family occasion.
The greatest injustice done to him was the quote 'Crisis, what crisis?' in the so-called Winter of Discontent. He never said those words. It was that old newspaper trick of using single inverted commas, safe in the knowledge that most readers wouldn't know this meant it was a paraphrase. What Callaghan actually said was that the media were over-hyping the public sector strikes and I think he was right. I remember there being lots of uncollected bin bags in the streets but it wasn't The End of Civilisation As We Know It. Far worse, but also more fun, were the fuel strikes and 3-day weeks under Ted Heath when we worked in our offices by candlelight like a scene from a Dickens novel.

Blair has been spouting predictable platitudes about Callaghan's death. Yet in 1997 it wasn't the generally consensual Labour politician Callaghan that Blair invited to tea at Downing Street to give him advice but Margaret Thatcher, the most right-wing and socially-divisive Conservative politician of the last century.


At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Graham said...

The so called "Winter of Discontent"was a myth,Sure the public sector was on strike but what the Tories forget to mention was that there had been 6 years of wage restraint,24% inflation an oil crisis,Britain was skint,the workers were skint,the country was going down the pan and the geat bogey man/enemy of the people as they saw it was the unions.And speaking as a Scot I have to say most of bloody middle England believed the tripe that the Tories spouted rather than give Labour a second term to pull things through.
Would "Sunny Jim" have pulled it off.We'll never know..

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I agree. I hope that historians in the future are able to disentangle the reality from the myth when they write about the 1970s.


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