The Socialist Unity Network

Cometh the hour, cometh the man

Andy Newman

The Guardian recently carried a remarkable piece by that spluttering old war-horse of Social Democracy, Roy Hattersley, which you can read here.

I have never seen Roy Hattersley in the role of a sycophant before, and it is not pretty. He seems to be hoping that John Prescott can be wooed by a public love-letter into organizing some sort of Coup d'Etat against Tony Blair.

Hattersley clearly sees John Prescott as a man of destiny, the great helmsman, the hope of the toiling classes.

How else are we to understand the following passage: "[Prescott] now must think of himself as the man, perhaps the only man, who can stand in the way of [the Labour Party's] continual degradation. I hope he realises that the party in the country sees him as Labour's saviour. Most members want a new leader, and a majority of them hope that it will be Gordon Brown. But they expect Prescott to make sure that, when the change comes about, there is still a party for Gordon Brown to lead."

Followed by: "Prescott has to persuade the prime minister that the future of the Labour party is just as important as the greater glory of the leader who cuckoos in its nest. Threats may have to take the place of persuasion. But saving the party is John Prescott's obligation. It will also confirm his place in history as the best deputy leader Labour has ever had."

The article has to be read in its entirety to appreciate the full scale of Hattersley's grovelling myth making. Prescott has apparently been a left wing influence behind the scenes guiding Tony Blair away from right wing policies that might damage the Labour party, or the working class. If that is the role Prescott has been playing, then judging by results he has been singularly ineffective.

In fact, as Liz Davies described in 2001, following her experience on the Labour Party's national Executive Committee: "I have never seen a hint of the much-vaunted division between Prescott and Blair. Of course, the apparent New Labour, "old Labour" distinction between the men is useful for both of them, and for the New Labour project. Whenever New Labour is committed to a policy that appears unpalatable to ordinary Labour party members, such as cuts to benefits, or privatisation of public services, Prescott plays a useful role. He is able to use his "old Labour" image to suggest that the policy is really progressive, and deserves the party's support. He can sell the policies to constituencies that distrust Blair. In reality, however, Blair and Prescott are two sides of the same coin."

Elsewhere in the article Hattersley agrees with this assessment that Prescott's real importance is in bridging the gap between the aspirations of the membership and New Labour's betrayal of every traditional social-democratic value of the Labour party. "Prescott - by emphasising (and sometimes inventing) what he called proof of the prime minister's belief in basic Labour principles - has defended him against the natural enemies who now make up a majority of party members. Only last week I was told: 'Blair can't be so bad. John gets on with him.' "

So even by Hattersley's own assessment, John Prescott is a cynical liar who dresses up right wing policies in order to make them palatable to the membership. This is the man Hattersley hopes will intervene for the good of the party to ensure that Blair hands over the reins to another right-winger, Gordon Brown. Oh be still my beating heart!

In the article Roy Hattersley admits that in fact many Labour party members are happy enough with Tony Blair (although a dwindling number). These were represented in Blair's close coterie by "the self-proclaimed praetorian guard - Byers, Milburn and Mandelson - [who] justified Blair's policy excesses to party members from whom he needed no protection."

This troika are Steven Byers (a former member of the IS/SWP), Peter Mandelson (a former member of the CPGB), and presumably Jackie Milburn (former striker for Newcastle United, who Blair claimed in a wireless interview to have watched as a teenager from a seat behind the goal in St James park - despite the fact that Jackie left the club when Blair was 4, and there were no seats there until 1990 - Blair does have a trouble with facts it seems).

Of course those who have studied the History of Imperial Rome will know that the Praetorian Guard would often act to depose an Emperor, and elevate one of their own number to the purple. It seems that Hattersley both believes that John Prescott has so far been the real Praetorian Guard, and that he should take his responsibilities seriously and ask Blair to fall on his sword - the traditional suicide of a Roman general.

There are a few in the Labour Party, like Alan Simpson MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, and Mark Seddon (never will be an MP) who still believe the Labour party can be reclaimed. I disagree that this is possible but respect their good intentions and wish them well.

Roy Hattersley is not advocating this sort of principled struggle for the soul of Labour, instead he wants to see a shoddy back room deal where Prescott stabs Tony Blair in the back in order to enthrone Gordon Brown as Prime Minister before the general election. His appeal to John Prescott's vanity is a sordid episode that does little credit to anyone.



August 2004


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