Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Bye Uppal, Hi Marris

Now I know what some of you are thinking. 'Vole', you're thinking, 'we all know that Paul Uppal was a devious, evasive, unpleasant character who had a very distant relationship with concepts such as honour, honesty, truth and the public good, was rarely glimpsed in the constituency and left no trace on public life other than a quite unpleasant symbolic skid mark, but tell us this: did you only doggedly track his undistinguished abuse of office because he was a Tory, and are you going to let his Labour replacement get away with all sorts of shenanigans?'

I'm very glad you asked me that, imaginary correspondent. The answer, of course, is no. I am a Labour Party member and I voted and campaigned for Rob Marris. I think he's a fundamentally decent man and he worked hard for the constituency when he was an MP. However, he much more rightwing than me and had a troubling history of total, slavish devotion to anything the New Labour administration did, including voting for the Iraq war. In fact my first interaction with Rob was enthusiastically writing to him after Blair made a speech explaining that Iraq was being invaded to promote democracy and women's rights. 'Brilliant', I wrote. When do we start bombing Riyadh?'. His reply was unamused and sadly unenlightening. I still don't know why Hussein's dictatorship had to be replaced at the cost of nearly a million lives so far whereas Saudi Arabia's much harsher one is supplied with as much money and weapons as it wants.

So in the spirit of continuing to harass my MP with idealistic bourgeois criticism, let's have a look at Rob Marris's first speech since losing his seat in 2005 shall we?

It doesn't start well. After the compulsory and perfunctory tribute to Paul Uppal, he has this to say:
I thank the voters … for electing me this year for the third time, and I have to say that it was a lot easier than it was five years ago, when I had the millstone of Gordon Brown around my neck.
Pretty graceless. But continue, Mr Marris.
The first myth of the two that I shall delineate is the Labour myth on the economy, which is that there was no problem with the economy when the world economic meltdown occurred in 2008 and that all our economic problems thereafter were due solely to world factors… Some of my colleagues may recall the Labour slogan for the 2001 general election, which was “an end to boom and bust”… That was brought forward by Messrs Brown and Balls. It was economic nonsense on none of my election material. It continued with the nonsense of the private finance initiative, which was a sleight of hand to disguise Government borrowing and, sadly, a sleight of hand that continued under the coalition Government.
The Labour Government continued with the nonsense of light-touch regulation and a Treasury Minister, one Ed Balls, boasting that Labour had become the financial capital of the world because we did not have the millstone of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
Now as it happens, I agree with an awful lot of what Mr Marris says in these sections and in the whole speech, but there's an awful whiff of 'who will bell the cat?' about it. In that story, the mice all agree that a lot fewer of them will die if they put a bell on the cat - but there are no volunteers to do the deed. Some of us in the Labour Party – including more prominent people than me, and a lot of MPs – offered a critique of New Labour's neoliberalism before, during and after the Blair and Brown years. Mr Marris was an MP from 2001-2010, a member of the Trade and Industry Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee. He says he 'made all the points I have just made to my then Labour colleagues' 'before the world economic meltdown'.

Oh yeah?

Not in public he didn't. Nor in Parliament unless he whispered them in dark corners. He voted through pretty much everything put in front of him by Blair, Brown and Balls, though he does deserve considerable credit for opposing the rise in tuition fees to £3000. He's very strongly for ID Cards and mass surveillance, crack-downs on immigration, against stronger gambling regulation.

Or is he? We just don't know. Perhaps he's happier in opposition and feels free to say what he thinks. Certainly this graceless – though accurate – attack on the absent Brown and Balls (I note that Mr Blair's role goes unmentioned) suggest either that he's off the leash or that he's quite happy to speak ill of the dead, a worm turned. I hope that he'll rediscover a set of political principles which guide him more strongly than the Whips' office.

In the meantime, I'll be watching and commenting. The difference between Marris and Uppal is that I was never convinced that Uppal acted in a spirit of good faith, whereas I do think that however wrong he'll be sometimes, Marris's motivation is the public interest. I've been blogging for a good while now and while I'm not egocentric enough to think that I represent anyone or am representative of much of the wider community, nor do I think that my MP should be taking political direction from me, but I do feel some sense of duty to provide a degree of scrutiny without regard for party loyalty. The real enemy is the Conservative Party, but I'm steeped in the syndicalist tradition which feared that political representatives would lose touch with their roots and citizens, seduced by the rituals, comforts and attractions of political life. The advent of social media like this is a means by which that distance can be bridged.

I think I'm actually quite lucky to have an MP like Rob Marris, which is why I worked for his election campaign in a very lowly fashion, but I'd urge you to keep an eye on what your MP is doing. Write to her or him, and help them see more of life than they otherwise might from the Westminster bubble. I might be a crank, but I'm sure you aren't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

PV, amazingly entertaining as usual. I know Uppal well and your assessment is spot on. He accumulated a ridiculous amount of wealth in 5 yrs as an MP but stupidly took his eye off the ball when it came to his bread and butter role as an MP. A real school boy error in this era of a Tory majority government. He did nothing of note a cardboard cutout MP couldn't do. Good riddance from Wolverhampton. I wouldn't be surprised if he appeared in a Tory safe seat somewhere in the UK in the next 2 yrs.