June 2008 - Goverment must come back from planet Zog

01 June 2013

ON another page of this Journal I have written an obituary for Gwyneth Dunwoody, a woman who was as honest and fearless as the day is long. As I say in the obituary, Jack Straw said that when a person becomes a politician, ‘If you can be bought, someone will buy you. If you can be bullied, someone will bully you. If you spurn both these you will be respected.’

 

Those words touched me, and have kept going round my head for three reasons. Firstly, I think they contain a great deal of truth. Secondly because I believe the only way the government can win the next election is by applying these ideas to the letter. And thirdly because if they did, it would be a fitting and lasting tribute to Gwyneth.

 

I have known many Labour politicians over the years and I am not so cynical that I think any of them have deliberately chosen the path of dishonesty. For the most part they set out with a genuine sense of mission, a desire to serve their electorate and improve the quality of life of working people. Yet over the years, much of the original idealism slips away.

 

In part it is their new life-style. They earn far more than the people who elected them. Their concerns gradually become detached from working people – they are concerned with Early Day Motions, the attitude of the Whips and the make-up of Select Committees – things that matter not a jot to most of us. They become inhabitants of the Westminster village.

 

I remember a few years ago a government minister accused some trade unions of ‘being on planet Zog’. The reality is that for many ordinary working people, their MP is much further away from planet Earth than the relatively neighbourly ‘Zog’.

 

Politicians, and especially ministers, are not consciously ‘bought’. But the effect is the same. People who used to be ‘the bosses’ or ‘City slickers’ become ‘donors’. They find that their life-style is much more closely mirrored by the rich and privileged rather then the rough and ready. Gradually they slip away from the people who elected them.

 

Gordon Brown said he intends to begin listening to Labour’s traditional supporters again in the wake of last month’s electoral disaster. That is laudable in a way. But how much better it would have been for us all, and how much stronger Labour would be today, if ministers had done that throughout the last decade.

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