28 November 2004


Francis Beckett has a funny piece in yesterday's Independent (click here) on the leftist pasts of various Labour high-ups, following on from Jack Straw's wierd letter (click here). It's also largely accurate — apart, I'm afraid, for the sidebar, which places the New Labour comrades into rival "Stalinist" and "Trotskyite" camps as follows:

How red is the Labour Party?
Old Trots and old Stalinists now glower at each other across the Cabinet table, where they feel at home because Blairism demands the religious loyalty they are used to. They include:

The Stalinist wing
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary Former Broad Left president of the NUS; branded "a troublemaker" by the Foreign Office when, on an NUS trip to Chile, his "childish politicking" aimed at embarrassing his right-wing opponents, was "nearly disastrous" for Anglo-Chilean relations.

Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education Former Broad Left president of NUS; led demonstrations for higher student grants, and was, he admits, "a strong opponent of the foreign policy of the USA".

John Reid, Secretary of State for Health Former Communist and researcher for the Scottish Union of Students. Claimed he joined the CP because it was the only non-Trotskyist political group on campus when he was an undergraduate student at Stirling University.

Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner Former Communist and chairman of the British Youth Council. Led a BYC delegation to Cuba in the 1970s.

Trevor Phillips, chairman, Commission for Racial Equality Former Broad Left president of NUS, led sit-ins, went to Cuba with Mandelson's delegation.

Alan Johnson, Work and Pensions Secretary Says he was close to the Communist Party in his youth, and gets agitated if you suggest he might have been a Trot.

The Trotskyite wing
Gordon Brown, Chancellor Showed political colours by choosing to do his PhD thesis on James Maxton, the leader of the rebel Independent Labour Party in the 1920s and 1930s. The ILP was accused by Stalin of being a Trotskyist front.

Alan Milburn, Labour's election planner Before joining Labour Party in 1983, Milburn was the manager of a socialist bookshop in Newcastle, and a CND activist, described, by Roy Hattersley, as "incapable of writing an election manifesto without drawing the battle lines of the philosophical struggle".

Paul Boateng, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Former left-wing rebel. Once called on Labour Party to "have the guts to support workers who have the guts to fight Thatcher".

Denis MacShane, minister for Europe Former left-wing NUJ
leader, arrested on picket lines in the 1970s, once alongside Arthur Scargill. Led the NUJ's biggest strike.

David Blunkett, Home Secretary Former leader of Sheffield City Council, which was known as "the socialist republic of South Yorkshire".

Margaret Hodge, Minister for Children Former leader of Islington Council where she had a bust of Lenin installed in the town hall. During her tenure, it became known as the "Socialist Republic of north London".

Neither . . . nor . . .
Tony Blair, Prime Minister Not known to have believed in anything when young, except God.

Now I don't have a great deal to argue with in the case of the "Stalinists". But I can't quite work out how some of the "Trotskyists" managed to get into that camp. Gordon Brown, for example, was very much anti-Trot as a student (he took a line on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders' work-in that was pretty close to the Communist Party's) and he was close to key Scottish CPers until the CP went under. And I've never come across any evidence that Denis MacShane, David Blunkett or Margaret Hodge were ever more than temporarily allied with Trots, in particular and long-forgotten circumstances. Of course, if anyone has the evidence, I'm quite happy to be enlightened. On the other hand, Ken Livingstone's associations with Trotskyists go back aeons and continue to this day . . . though I suppose he doesn't really count as New Labour.

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