Because of how politics being exactly how it’s portrayed on House of Cards and the West Wing and political thrillers, I imagine Northern Labour politicians have had a difficult week this week. Having the bad cop whips put them in nipple clamps and threaten to expose the way they shop at Waitrose (and spend hundreds on Heston Blumenthal ready meals) until good cop Harriet Harman takes them aside and promises a new-build learning community centre cum ciabatta factory for their constituency if they will only agree not to vote against the benefits cuts which will take £300 million out of the North East and reinforce the deadly myths about a big welfare load being the reason we need austerity.
Eight of them resisted. Notably Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, who drew up a motion saying they should reject the bill. She was recently shadow minister for welfare reform, so knows what she’s talking about when she says that it would attack working families on low incomes, lone parents and sick and disabled people and their carers. Fellow North East rebels were Mary Glindon, Dave Anderson, Andy McDonald, Grahame Morris, Ian Mearns, Ian Lavery and Iain Wright. Writing it out like that reveals the statistic that 37.5% of the North East MPs who voted against the bill were called Ian. This is probably not as relevant as the fact that several North East MPs abstained on a bill which will hit their North East constituents particularly hard. It feels unfair to pick people out but there are certainly a couple of newer North East MPs whose anti austerity rhetoric would have led me to think they might stand a bit firmer.
None of them have yet come out like Andy Burnham and said that this is a terrible bill, a really rubbish bill which we must resist at all costs. Fight them on the barricades, protest, disavow and generally do anything we can to bring down. Oh, apart from actually vote against it. No, we mustn’t do that, because we must show party solidarity and also win our leadership election.
With every turn and wriggle, every strategic statement and comment about what the imagined electorate want, Jeremy Corbyn’s stature grows. It was good of Tony Blair to further boost his campaign when he said that people supporting him were in need of a heart transplant. He didn’t add that at the rate we’re going, it might be only Corbyn who’s up for keeping the NHS going and enabling any of us commoners to have heart transplants. John Prescott then gave Jeremy another gigantic lift by saying he was kind and nice but not the ambitious sort and didn’t really want to be leader. I’m going to credit John Prescott, who says he’s actually going to vote for Andy Burnham, with the cleverness to know that is exactly and precisely what the public most wants in a leader. Quite clearly we are fed up of primped, strategy spouting, spin dominated automatons who can’t even manage to vote against a bill which will harm the most vulnerable people in the country. A nice, honest and principled chap who doesn’t want to be leader? Perfect.
It’s a mistake for commentators to draw parallels between 1983 and the disaster of the party going left under Michael Foot. In 1983, people still had politicians on their Christmas card list. invited them to their weddings and wanted to go out for a Saturday night drink with them. Now they’re down there with cold callers, estate agents and Xtra Factor presenters as the most disparaged people in the country. The quality called for time and time again is honesty. Tactical voting has done Labour MPs and leadership contenders no good. Nor is it good for the North East. Thank goodness for those few willing to put their hands on the jump leads and restart Labour’s heart.