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Why Labour won’t win back Britain Failed leaders would rather fix the world than fix their party

The dream team, back to save the world. Oli Scarff/Getty Images)


June 24, 2021   6 mins

In the summer of 2017 to be Labour was very heaven. The party did not win the General Election that year, but it appeared to have everything else: youth, juice, ideas, memes and strident forward-motion. Labour was not in office, but it was in power. The under-40s saw the Conservative Party as a cack-handed version of the NSDAP: sick, evil, and weak. A humiliating GIF, circulating endlessly in those months, showed a chuckling Theresa May on the Commons benches, with a pixelated kipper sliding wetly down her throat. Her days were haunted; her authority was punctured; her majority had evaporated.

When Our Lord Jeremy extended his messianic balm over the fields of Glastonbury that June, the crowd was higher than ever — not just on the usuals — but on pure, uncut, top-shelf New Jerusalem. The torpor and apathy and cruelty of the 2010s were over at last. Salvation was at hand: Brexit would be reversed, affordable housing would be built, borders would be abolished. Every child would receive their own mega fast broadband router, and sex workers would be free to roam the land, maligned no more.

All over the country, roses shed their thorns; at Longleat, lions lay with lambs. No more either/or distinctions, from now on the British would embrace both/and. We were going to have it all, and so would the Palestinians. “That politics that got out of the box,” he roared from the Pyramid Stage, “is not going back in any box.”

And yet here we are, barely the length of a parliament later. Corbyn’s politics is not only boxed up — it is entombed, buried deep beneath the political firmament like nuclear waste. His replacement as Labour leader has less charisma than a long video of Iain Duncan Smith doing a jigsaw puzzle.

A few weeks ago, Keir Starmer appeared on television, watched by a trifling audience, and cried. (You would be crying too if you were the leader of the Labour party.) He seemed needy and awkward, like Labour’s losing, patronising, pints n’ flags n’ chip butties strategy in the Hartlepool by-election. Another by-election loss in Batley and Spen is about to follow.

What can save them? Well, when the going gets tough, the Party gets writing books. Labour luminaries are as prolix and as prolific as the most unhinged Victorian essayists. Labour tomes have fallen from the sky all year: John Cruddas’s The Dignity of Labour, will shortly be joined by Jess Philips’s Everything You Really Need to Know about Politics, and Lisa Nandy’s Finding Our Place in A World Falling Apart. And September will be shaken to its very core by Tristram Hunt’s book about Josiah Wedgewood, who he calls — sigh — “the Steve Jobs of the 18th century”. But the most revealing Labour books this year come from Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown, because they barely mention Labour at all.

Miliband’s is called Go Big: How to Fix Our World. In 2015, unfortunate Ed looked as if he would be the first British politician to go down to posterity notable only for his association with a sandwich since… the actual Earl of Sandwich. Then he reinvented himself as a podcaster. Co-hosting Reasons to be Cheerful with the radio presenter Geoff Lloyd, Ed revealed that beneath the dorky, robotic exterior he possessed a more dorky, less robotic interior. The podcast was rampantly downloaded, and Miliband was profiled as if he were a cross between a sexier member of the pre-Raphaelites and a knight of the Algonquin Round Table. Miliband, the nearly man, had arrived.

Brown’s is called Seven Ways to Change the World, and is clearly the harvest of a long lockdown. Shakespeare wrote King Lear during his own plague-induced quarantine; Brown found not one, but seven whole ways to change the entire world. It reads like he bookmarked the Wikipedia page of the Marshall Plan, and googled “most inspiring quotes by dead African-Americans”. Like King Lear, Seven Ways is a tragedy, albeit for different reasons

Both Go Big and Seven Ways belong to the “everything can be fixed, trust us, we’re experts” genre of political treatise, which can be traced all the way back to Plato’s Republic. (Plato is a bit more honest about what technocratic governance means for liberty, democracy and the average person than Brown and Miliband are.) Both books believe the world is there to be hacked into betterness by enlightened politicians, inventive think-tankers, and dogged activists. Both see international cooperation as preferable to “populist nationalism”.

Both books are optimistic, in the sense that they are poached in the mental and emotional atmosphere of 1997. Both Miliband and Brown have little useful or new to say about the Labour Party, Brexit, crime, defence, migration, China, or the spectacular failure of international bodies such as the WHO during the pandemic. Both books are exactly what you would expect them to be. Who is this for, other than the authors themselves?

Miliband is, I suppose, quite self-deprecating and almost aware of his ridiculousness. (He comes dangerously close to making a joke on page 9 of Go Big.) It is possible to imagine bantering with a fleece-wearing Ed while he tries to flog you overpriced organic honey at a Sunday morning farmer’s market in the Cotswolds. Brown on the other hand, remains crashingly, breathtakingly grand. Seven Ways is played in the major keys, and Brown is frozen in “We not only saved the world” mode here. Again and again he batters the reader with his motto: global problems require global solutions.

Seven Ways leaves you with the impression that if Brown found his house on fire, he would convene a summit of global thought leaders before he called the local firemen. On a panel with Fareed Zakaria, Yuval Noah Harari, and Tedros Adhanom, Brown would discuss the best ways to put out a housefire. What temperature should the dowsing water be? How long should the firehose be? Do we have the right balance of gender, sexual and racial diversity among the firemen coming to put out the blaze? His house would be a blackened hulk long before the discussion finished. In Gordon’s world there is nothing that can’t be solved by invoking the world. It’s the view from the sky, never the view from the street. This is a social democrat’s brain after 15 years of motorcades.

What Gordon will never do again is hold real power. Powerlessness shadows both texts. There is a reason why these two ex-Labour leaders don’t want to think about Britain. Brexit. So they dredge up their global solutions to global problems, straining for relevance and produce fantasies instead. If Labour stood on a manifesto cribbed from these books, they’d be lucky to get 500 votes outside the university towns.

When they actually had power, what did they do with it? Miliband loved gimmicks as leader of the opposition, like unconvincing visits to Greggs and wearisome conversations with Russell Brand. (“The Tories should be worried,”wrote Owen Jones in May 2015, after Miliband met Brand on YouTube.) Meanwhile Brown is lauded as one of the last true intellects in British politics. A serious, big-brained, adult. And yet, as chancellor he could barely leave a room with Tony Blair in it without slamming the door so hard it lost its hinges. For a decade Brown stalked, sulked and screamed, all but consumed by tapeworms of envy that squirmed around inside him. Has there ever been a more emotionally delicate politician? “In the aftermath of 9/11, Tony rang Gordon to ask for his advice,” recalls Blair’s old advisor Jonathan Powell. “Instead of responding Gordon used the call to demand to know when Tony was going to resign. Tony slammed the phone down in a rage.”

These are men who could barely read the mood of their colleagues, let alone the country, let alone the global community. How to fix the world? How about you start by trying to fix a pothole lads? The problem for Labour is that its members may actually read these books and take them seriously. They would be much better off reading Edmund Burke, or V.S. Naipaul. Then they might understand Britain — which is currently reverting back to its spiky, crabby, nasty “fund the NHS, hang the nonces” conservative mean at the moment.

There is almost no chance that young Labourites will do that. They don’t want to understand their enemies, so they’ll be doomed to underestimate them. This is a party whose members, or the vocally online ones, spit teeth at the sight of a Union Jack. When they try to come up with a patriotism of the Left, as the talented Dan Jarvis did in a Fabian Society pamphlet this year, they fall back on platitudes. Left patriotism, Jarvis writes, should invoke the “Britain of the Tolpuddle martyrs, the Chartists, and the miners’ strike.” I can imagine this will be really appealing to all those people who actually care who the Tolpuddle martyrs and the Chartists were. The Tories, I suspect, will be happy to keep the flag, the Queen, and the Armed Forces.

Where is Labour now? In the same place they were in 1964, when Perry Anderson wrote of the party trapped in an “isolated, spot-lit enclave, surrounded on every side by hostile territory”. It’s an enclave in a land that speaks a language foreign to the party. None of the maps makes any sense. The only road out is very dark, cold and lonely. And if the party is asking Brown and Miliband for directions, they’ll be walking it for a long while yet.

At least in 1964 Labour were prepared to fight their way out of enemy territory. “If it’s the last thing I do,” said Anthony Crosland, “I’m going to destroy every fucking Grammar School in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland.” And he actually did it! Nobody in Labour today looks capable of destroying anything, apart from the party itself. They prattle on about their values (without saying what they are) on the morning shows, or cry like X Factor contestants, or are given the run around by George Galloway in by-elections, while the country turns away in embarrassment. No wonder these old leaders don’t write books about the party today. Writing the obituary of something you put in the ground is not for everyone.


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Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

Very funny article. I read it twice.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Attitude of mind. When Crosland made his famous statement, Labour still thought of themselves as underdogs, fighting the establishment. Now Labour, despised as woke, is the establishment.

Rocky Rhode
Rocky Rhode
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Classic example of Labour thinking and leadership: force through a policy that, at a stroke, removes the most effective tool of social mobility for working class kids.
The “party of workers and the poor” thereby guaranteed that more kids from blue collar families would always remain poor and condemned to a life of manual labour.
Come to think of it, maybe Crosland knew what he was doing: when young people manage to rise above the social station into which they are born they often start gravitating towards political parties further to the right.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Rocky Rhode

Maybe more to it than that. I think that some people, when they become ‘clever’ or ‘well-read’, suddenly see themselves floating above everyone else – the ordinary people.
In the world of political extremes they then take sides and either make money from the ordinary people (extreme right) or they feel that they have to take steps to coddle and protect those of inferior ability (extreme left). Unfortunately, this all falls down because those who have chosen the left-hand way also make money from the ordinary people, simply by paying themselves more.

andy young
andy young
2 years ago
Reply to  Rocky Rhode

Plato would have been sooo proud. It promoted exactly the sort of stable society he desired.

Rocky Rhode
Rocky Rhode
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Agreed. Don’t particularly agree with the author’s politics but these lines made me laugh out loud:
Like King LearSeven Ways is a tragedy, albeit for different reasons”
“This is a social democrat’s brain after 15 years of motorcades.”
The tragedy of Gordon Brown is that he appears to have the IQ of a giant and the EQ of a toddler. And I’m not even sure his IQ is as impressive as he obviously thinks it is.
A friend who worked in Downing Street for a while during the Blair years and attended some Cabinet meetings told me at the time how embarrassing it was for everyone else around the table to have Brown sitting at one end, glowering and noisily going through paperwork while ignoring everything Blair or anyone else had to say.
A total child-adult.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rocky Rhode

It’s very revealing, as well as very funny, that Dawn Butler apparently thinks the time is right for her to step up to the leadership.
There is no sensible question to which Dawn Butler is the answer. “Which thick racist shall we put in charge of Labour next?” is, of course, not a sensible question. But that Labour can go, within 14 years, from Blair to Butler as (putative) leader is astonishing evidence of the party’s complete intellectual collapse.
If that happens, if she becomes their leader, the Conservatives will increase their majority in 2023/4 to over 100. Chesham and Amersham aren’t going to vote for Dawn Butler in a GE, and Batley and Spen aren’t going to do so at any time at all.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 years ago

“I’m going to destroy every fxxxing grammar school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
Anthony Crosland went to public school, no doubt; another reason why the Labour brand is doomed.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rob Britton
Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

The Labour leaders naturally kept the posh public schools going by sending their own offspring to them.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael James
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

Thus destroying the opportunity for social mobility for able working class children and depriving society of their contribution, as doctors, teachers, academics and writers, to the health and education of the next generation of working class people.

Damian Grant
Damian Grant
2 years ago

For far too long Labour got away with using hard-working, working class families as electoral cannon fodder; the current woke Labour party deserves to wallow in electoral oblivion whilst a party that is truly representative of the aspiring working class electorate takes shape. The trouble is that this will take time.

Guy Johnson
Guy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

Best way to stop the riff-raff getting a quality education.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

You have to go back a long way, to pre-WW2 I think, to find a Labour leader who wasn’t selectively educated (selection for Ed Miliband’s school was based on postcode).

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

And grammar schools in Northern Ireland are alive & well. (Not that I support them)

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

Everyone can see that Labour’s decision to pander to metropolitan middle-class hypocrites while optimistically believing that this would have no effect on its traditional voters was one of the worst political mistakes by a major party in recent history.

The problem for Labour, apart from the very real possibility that the people inside still haven’t worked this out, is that the damage is irreversible. Labour doubled down on sabotaging Brexit, in the process turning it’s traditional voters from people simply not interested in voting for Labour at the present time, into people who hate with a passion what the party stands for. Millions of people who used to vote Labour now hate it in the same way that they used to hate Thatcher’s tories, and that’s a generational shift. There’s no way back for Labour with these voters, so it’s left competing for the fringe vote with the Greens and LibDems.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Boris’ decision to concede to ecofascists and to slash and burn the greenbelt may prove to be the equivalent mistakes. They won’t pay the full price next time but 2029 and beyond are looking dodgy.

Richard Riheed
Richard Riheed
2 years ago

Brilliant piece of writing and right on point. The image of IDS jigsaw video will keep me chuckling. Love your style.

MICHAEL MCGREGOR
MICHAEL MCGREGOR
2 years ago

We should lay-off Gordon Brown. It’s not as if he sold Britain’s gold reserve for a third of it’s value. Oh, wait. Yes he did!

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

Very funny article – and a painfully accurate reflection of the state of Labour right now.
The trouble is that neither Brown nor Miliband have the gravitas – or track record – to lecture away on such grand ideas.
Just contrast it to Margaret Thatcher’s Statecraft. It also lectures somewhat, and has very grand ideas and opinions. But she earnt that right, and had a track record of influencing global politics singlehandedly.
Miliband wasn’t even respected within his own party, and Brown’s greatest achievement was providing a dour uninspiring tonic to Blair’s ego.

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
johnnyfstoke
johnnyfstoke
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

To be fair to Brown he did a decent job pulling the west out of the shit when the Bankers nearly destroyed economies on 2008 , then copped the blame for it . Otherwise I tend to agree about the state of Labour right now

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  johnnyfstoke

I respectfully disagree. His policies were the a major part of the problem.

What he did well was convince everyone it was ALL the bankers’ fault, rather than politicians’ fault as well.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  johnnyfstoke

Correction that was Clinton and the Democrats forcing the banks to give mortgages to people who could not realistically hope to make the payments

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

But also Brown’s fault for wrecking financial regulation of the City by giving it to an incompetent quango, the FSA. This triggered a race to the bottom in regulatory effectiveness between London and New York. The results was the near-collapse of the global financial system in about ten years. That’s what happens when you let Labour in for two terms.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

True also

Nick Baile
Nick Baile
2 years ago

I’m afraid you cannot lay that all at the Dem’s feet (and I am no admirer of the Dems). To quote G W Bush from 2002: “… And so by the year 2010, we must increase minority home owners by at least 5.5 million. In order to close the homeownership gap…” (https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/06/20020617-2.html)
The 2008 debacle was a multi-party cluster-f**k, which managed to catastrophically skew incentives in previously sleepy government agencies (Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, etc), banks habitually red-in-tooth-and-claw (Countrywide, BofA, etc) and – worst of all because they had little protection from their own foolishness – the end consumer of the ninja-credit which was force-fed them.

Nick Baile
Nick Baile
2 years ago
Reply to  johnnyfstoke

I must confess to getting a little dismayed/nettled whenever the banks alone are fingered for their selfish irresponsibility and the destruction of our economies over the last thirty years. It’s such an easy accusation to make: for every complex problem there is a solution which is simple, obvious and wrong (or at least partly wrong).
They are publicly quoted companies operating within a regulatory framework built by their/our governments and supranational bodies, specifically the BIS. Just to give one example:
The BIS declares that henceforth OECD sovereign debt is to be considered risk-free (Basel I); it is therefore held by banks on their balance sheets in the assumption that it will never lose value, is fully liquid and will never default. The risk premium is zero. Magic! Result: sell any debt that is not of an OECD sovereign nation (i.e. mortgages) to the first schmuck who will buy it (CDOs). And keep Greek debt, it’s safe as houses, innit?
Any publicly-quoted bank which does not do this, because it sees the folly of it, will be hamstrung by the extra costs involved in diversifying its reserves to include non-zero-risk corporate and private debt. Its risk-free reserve capital falls, reducing the reserves against which further loans can be made. Our responsible bank’s return-on-assets falls, bringing down the share price and driving investors away from it into the equity of the competitors’. The share price continues to sink, pension funds pull out, the dividend cannot be met, etc, etc.
The ‘wisdom’ of our good bank’s conservatism isn’t even an advantage once Damocles’ sword finally falls, by which time its competitors have all built glass-and-steel castles to the sky in Canary Wharf. The government, desperate to disguise its own folly, forces the well-run, safely-capitalised bank (Lloyds TSB springs to mind) to rescue its no-longer profitable neighbour (HBOS in this case), the darling of the market over the last few years, but now crippled with illiquid, risk-free-turned-toxic debt.  
I am not a banker, indeed have little sympathy for bankers, who are opportunists writ large and are in a position to make vast personal wealth from the idiocy of others. They are apex predators and, like a Great White, possessed of no remorse. They are the proof that too-big-to-fail is a dangerous violation of Schumpeter’s dictum of creative destruction and must be repudiated. If they screw up, they must face the consequences. The moral hazard has been turned onto the taxpayer. Not by the banks, but by our own governments and state regulators.
I said at the start, banks are publicly traded companies. Their greatest competitors are therefore the share prices of other publicly traded banks. Citibank’s Chuck Prince was right about the game of chairs which they play every day. The first (not the last) one to stop playing is the mug.
If you want to fix the banks, fix the monetary and regulatory systems (fiat currency with no intrinsic value and fractional banking, respectively). Most retail banks should become privatised mutual-type affairs, the investment banks should return to their 19th-century knitting and invest in industry, not play daily roulette with markets and derivatives.
There was a lot to be said for the world of Glass-Steagall, the repeal of which we can thank Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan. The banks will then operate within a more responsible legal framework. Of course they’re rapacious. They’re capitalists. But don’t blame the banks for the framework which our governments have put in place.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nick Baile
Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago
Reply to  Nick Baile

Some excellent thoughts there. The narrative that the banks alone, brought the financial crash is a false one. I well remember Gordon Brown at the despatch box saying loudly “Mr Speaker, this is the end of boom & bust” (when we were riding one of the biggest booms in history). Bust follows boom, as surely as night follows day.

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

Great article thanks. Happily Labour’s electoral goose has been cooked with increasing temperatures since 1979. However the biggest risk from them and their ilk is not electoral, other than their propensity for electoral fraud, which BJ and chums should have as priority #3, with the economyas #1. Priority #2 however should be the removal of Labour infiltrators in Education, Health, Emergency Services and Civil Services national and local. Its pretty basic really, no-one paid by the public coin in work or retirement should be a political activist either via membership or via support on social or other media, be they Tory, Labour or other. UK Governments retrospectively change Employment Law all the time, and for once this is a change i and many millions of others would welcome.

Last edited 2 years ago by mike otter
gasparalvite
gasparalvite
2 years ago

This is a good article! What a pleasure to read something intelligent, well-written. I actually joined Unherd after reading it. You deserve our support

Damian Grant
Damian Grant
2 years ago
Reply to  gasparalvite

I have to admit the quality of writing and comment here has improved dramatically, so much so that I’ve also recently decided to take out out an annual subscription…a really enjoyable, insightful article and spot on in many respects!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Something I think that is quite often overlooked about Labour’s dilemma is its membership problem.
It’s quite well understood that those who join political parties are more extreme than those who vote for it but don’t join. Labour has – thanks to Miliband – saddled itself with a process for selecting its leader that depends on votes by its members, who are whack job loonies almost in their entirety.
The result is that Labour elects as leader either the looniest lefty on offer, or an empty suit that the members expect to be able to manipulate. As a consequence, we get the situation where the members elect a crank like Corbyn, the parliamentary party expresses no confidence, the leader refuses to resign, and the MPs go into an election advocating the election as PM of someone they think unfit to lead their party.
This problem is not going away. There’s going to be no Count-Belisarius-style reconquest of the party by moderates, because moderates don’t join the Labour party. The only way this ends is if Labour is so terminally wrecked that the loonies abandon it and infest a different party instead. For my money, this is what will befall the Greens and we’ll see it start to play out quite soon.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

If Brown’s house was on fire, he would call the fire brigade. But then he would find that there were three fire brigades, none of which were capable or interested in tackling the blaze. And the arsonists would be the people Brown had shared many a lunch with prior to 1997 and who had listened politely to him prattle on about economics. They would then offer to put the fire out themselves, if Brown was prepared to give them enough money.
This was of course what happened with the British financial system. Brown dismantled regulation of the industry. He was the principle cheerleader as bank balance sheets inflated. He fixed monetary policy so that inflation was underestimated. And then he claimed to have nothing to do with the mess that his policies created. And as for saving the world, all he did was double down on his disastrous policies while leaving the criminals in place to enjoy the proceeds of their crimes for another decade.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago

Have to agree with the others, this one gets 10/10 for literary creativity alone, before we even get to the political points.

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
2 years ago

“They (Labour) prattle on about their values (without saying what they are) on the morning shows, or cry like X Factor contestants, or are given the run around by George Galloway in by-elections, while the country turns away in embarrassment.”

Yep. Just about sums it up.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

Seven Ways leaves you with the impression that if Brown found his house on fire, he would convene a summit of global thought leaders before he called the local firemen.”

Genius! Belly-laugh there, thank you 🙂

Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago

I have a priceless memory of seeing Ed Miliband on TV when Labour leader, visiting the flooded Somerset Levels. He had managed to put on a pair of wellingtons but he looked utterly lost, with the thought bubble ‘where the f… are we?’ hovering over his head.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael James
Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

“a long video of Iain Duncan Smith doing a jigsaw puzzle.“
Outstanding!

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

If perchance UnHerd have some compromat on any of the Scott Trust board members, I would love to see this article force-published in the graun.

Gareth Llewellyn
Gareth Llewellyn
2 years ago

Mr. Lloyd is on a roll with this one.

Last edited 2 years ago by Gareth Llewellyn
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

I am surprised that Ed Miliband’s bacon sandwich has never staged its own bid for the leadership.

Nick Baile
Nick Baile
2 years ago

Beautifully written – toe curling metaphors, similes and allusions Ă  point. Chapeau!
One thing: “Has there ever been a more emotionally delicate politician [than Gordon Brown]?”
Yes: Kamala Harris. And they deal with embarrassment in very gender-typical ways: Brown becomes pompous and over-bearing. Harris turns Mummy’s disapproval onto you and challenges you to offend her further: you impudent child, no chocolate before bed for you!
It’s deflection in both cases.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

I recall a moment when I said in conversation,
“I would try anything once, apart from the obvious…”
And then blurted out, “like Ed Milliband’s biography, for example”.
“Where did that come from”, I thought. “Could it be that bad?”

Tris Torrance
Tris Torrance
2 years ago

The Left is eating itself. It’s great to watch.

Rosie Franczak
Rosie Franczak
2 years ago

Just joined because of Will Lloyd’s piece. The problem with Labour (apart from the recent, genuinely passionate but bound-to-fail leftism of Corbyn) is it is now so ‘inauthentic’ it has lost all resonance. People dont know what labour stands for and now they dont even want to know if it stands for anything worth having, because they feel ‘had’. Tories on the other hand are totally authentic in their appalling inhuman burbling toxicity wherever you look on the blue of the spectrum, with very few exceptions. (Bercow’s passion for Parliamentary democracy always made him look like he had been potted up in the wrong compost). The fact that Tories are deep down real absolute shites, gets them votes. Labour on the other hand has been pummelled and re-shaped out of existence by Mandelson and leftovers like Mattinson, from that Shadow Comms Agency from the 80s, and over time by Kinnock, Blair and Brown to a formula based on a warped calculation of what characteristics are required for governing. In statistical terms, presentation, commentary, looks, policies, performance and appeal are algorithms in some dreamlike, self-pleasuring PR strategy that bears no regard to satisfying the country’s urgent needs. From the late 80s labour helicoptered in ‘clones’ of labourite apparatchiks who wore similar suits and went to the same barbers, while cynical messaging from deeply shallow messengers ( I honestly believe -said Blair, endlessly) arose from focus groups. If it is a politics based on thin ice it will break like thin ice, eventually.

Rosie Franczak
Rosie Franczak
2 years ago

On whether or not King Lear was written in 1606 (yet another Plague Year almost as bad as 1603-): Plague had often closed the London theatres during Summer months. Both Leeds Barroll ( Poliics, Plague and Shakespeare’s Theatre, pp153-156 and James Shapiro (“1606 The year of Lear”) believe it is possible that Macbeth, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra were the progeny of that 1606 ‘lockdown’. But while there is evidence in terms of performances at Court, it is not proven Lear was written then. But it is likely. Sometimes plagues were blamed on plays. One Elizabethan preacher proclaimed that because “the cause of plagues is sin” and “the cause of sin are plays,” then “the cause of plagues are plays.” In an article in the Atlantic in March 2021, David Pollack Pelzner wrote: “Conversely, plagues may have caused plays. It’s long been thought that Shakespeare turned to poetry when plague closed the theaters in 1593. That’s when he published his popular narrative poem, Venus and Adonis, in which the goddess begs a kiss from a beautiful boy, “to drive infection from the dangerous year,” for, she claims, “the plague is banish’d by thy breath.” 

rosie.brocklehurst
rosie.brocklehurst
2 years ago

There are lots of Grammar schools in Kent. I know. I did not get into one. Got into LSE however, eventually. Someone believed in me but not Grammar School class dividers who decided I wasn’t special enough. Very damaging to select at 11.

trevor.e
trevor.e
2 years ago

Chuckled throughout but, of course, it is easier to carp from the sidelines whilst this duo try to do something with belief, vigour and one hopes, honesty. Recent utterances from Brown do contain, it seems to me, a tinge of senior statesman and are free, I think, of the negativity of the latter Blair Years.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago

A very snarky article. Conservatism in the UK has been rejuvenated by a mesmeric leader, but also by some heavyweight intellectual thought. Some of that thought is occasionally on display here on Unherd. Some of that thought has been written down in books. Books! Of all things! So when Labour tries to rejuvenate itself with ideas and books, well, that is to be welcome, although for sure, some new voices would be preferable.
And by the way, selective grammar schools still exist in Northern Ireland.