a Monkey puzzle for RESPECT?
realm of electoral politics Tony Blair is simply a genius. Increasingly
modelling himself on Michael Corleone it seems, he has played a master
stroke by rewarding his Consilieri
Mandelson with a fantastic job as EU commissioner.
Labour backbencher Mandelson has apparently returned to Blair's
closest inner circle since last September's resignation of Alistair
Campbell. The EU commissioner's job will give him a salary of £145000,
plus an extra 15% annual residence allowance, and a £7000 entertainment
budget. He also trousers a one-off relocation allowance of around
£40000, and a two thirds final salary pension.
By displaying this patronage in favour of
the twice discredited Mandelson, Blair demonstrates that he is in full
control, after swatting aside opposition attempts to hold him to account
over Butler. It also has the benefit of setting another hare running for
the journalists in the Westminster village, distracting them from Iraq.
At the same time he shows that he does not forget to reward his friends.
What is more, Mandelson out of sight in Brussels is only a phone call
away, but no-one in the British press will really care what he does
So this is a master stroke of a
politician at the height of his powers.
The full extent of Blair's Machiavellian
cunning is revealed by considering the effect of a by-election in
Hartlepool, Mandelson's constituency.
This is one of Labour's safest seats, and Labour can be more confident
than any of the opposition parties. Of course,
the mascot of Hartlepool's football team
H'Angus the Monkey, alias Stuart Drummond, defeated Labour to become the
town's elected mayor in 2002. But history has shown that the good
citizens of Hartlepool are poor judges of monkey-related issues, and
this is unlikely to effect a Westminster by-election.
Admittedly, in recent years the Lib Dems
have polled well in council
elections. On the other hand, Hartlepool has suffered badly from EU
fishing regulations, and the European aspect of Mandelson's elevation
will favour the UKIP rather than the Lib Dems. Indeed
in the Euro election on 10th June UKIP received 19.8% in Hartlepool,
coming second in front of both the Tories and Lib Dems. Kilroy
Silk has already suggested he may be the UKIP candidate. UKIP could do
very well should Europe rather than Iraq become the defining issue,
and in a by-election context may even have aspirations of winning the
Most significantly, another
by-election where the Tories come third or
even fourth would be a disaster for Michael Howard.
The difficult challenge for Respect is
that this is both a very unfavourable contest, and one that is hard to
avoid. In the 2001 general election Arthur Scargill stood against
Mandelson and scored a creditable 2.4%, getting over 900 votes. At the
time most of us were a bit disappointed by this performance, but in
hindsight it was quite good.
Hartlepool is a small working class town
(population 88000, electorate 67000). According to the 2001 census 98.8%
of Hartlepool's population describe themselves as white and only 0.4%
are Moslem. Undoubtedly left organisation in the town is relatively
weak, although this is one of the few
towns where Respect stood candidates for the local elections.
This is the sort of town where Respect polled very badly in the Euro
elections on June 10th right across the
country, and in Hartlepool they polled only 1.0%. Remember, in
many parts of the country Respect polled no better in the Euro elections
than Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (SLP) did in 1999.
However, the 2.4% vote for the SLP in
2001 shows that there is an audience for a socialist alternative in
Hartlepool. What is more, the fact that Mandelson personifies the New
Labour ethos means that there is a crying need for a left challenge in
The difficulty for Respect is that if it
doesn't contest this election then many on the left will accuse them of
walking away from white working class constituencies. But if Respect
does contest the election and performs worse than 2.4% then this will be
a very sobering reality check. Perhaps
they may save face by offering to stand aside in favour of the Greens?
June 2001 General Election result:
|Gus Robinson (C)
|Nigel Boddy (LD)
Scargill (Socialist Lab)
Euro election result:
Labour Party Candidates
British National Party
Herron - Independent
Respect - The Unity Coalition (George Galloway)