Book review: I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by John Crace

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If, as is often said, a week is a long time in politics, then ten months must be a lifetime. For back in November 2010, when this humorous book was published,.Ed Miiiband was not just another unshaven backbencher but a party leader widely reckoned to have a real shot at being Prime Minister. What’s more, the Tories, then in something called “a coalition” with a party, apparently the third party in Britain back then, called the Liberal Democrats, were looking quite vulnerable. Many still had high hopes for Nigel Farage and UKIP back then too. They don’t now. Fewer expected the post-referendum SNP surge to last, perhaps not even their new leader elected in that month, Nicola Sturgeon. What’s more such luminaries as Douglas Alexander, David Laws, Vince Cable, Charles Kennedy, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls were all still members of parliament. The last figure, indeed, had reasonable hopes of becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Jeremy Corbyn? He is not mentioned here at all.

How times have changed! This is not to criticise this funny, informative and still highly enjoyable book though. Guardian writer Crace must have known this book would always have a brief shelf life but this is still well worth a read. Crace is funniest in constructing imaginary conversations between political figures and is refreshingly even handed. He is as harsh on Miliband’s automaton type ways as he is on Cameron’s gaffes (why on Earth did he appoint Andy Coulson? What on Earth was Andrew Lansley’s health care reforms supposed to be about? Why do Michael Gove and iain Duncan Smith have to exist?).

Excellent.

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I Never Promised You A Rose Garden: A Short Guide to Modern Politics, the Coalition and the General Election. Published by: Corgi, 2014 by John Crace

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General Election memories 9: 2015

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha wave as they return to Number 10 Downing Street after meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in London, Britain May 8, 2015. Prime Minister David Cameron won a stunning election victory in Britain, overturning poll predictions that the vote would be the closest in decades to sweep easily into office for another five years, with his Labour opponents in tatters.   REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Exeter, May 7th 2015.

Some of you may have spotted the occasional hint of pro-Labour bias in this blog. From this, you might very well have concluded that I would have been more than slightly disappointed with this election’s result.

You would be right.

What is more, while you may, for all I know, be reading this at some point during Boris Johnson’s second term as Prime Minister in 2024, I am writing this in the same month the election actually happened. So be kind please: the wounds are still raw.

That said, I am at least fortunate not to be a Liberal Democrat. I was never keen  on the idea of a Lab-Lib coalition bin 2010, not because I disliked what was then the third party but because I felt Labour had so clearly lost that it would look a bit desperate for Gordon Brown to attempt to cling onto power. It was a Rainbow Coalition, after all. And there can be no Brown in a rainbow.

I have mixed feelings about what followed. Nick Clegg proved both hopelessly naïve and horrendously cynical: naïve for not getting more out of the Tories when they needed him so much, cynical for ditching the pledge on tuition fees so shabbily.

They all suffered for it in the end anyway. It gave me no joy to see good anti-coalition types like Simon Hughes lose their seats in 2015. It couldn’t have been nice for Nicky’s old MP Paddy Ashdown (who I had briefly met a few years earlier in his old seat of Yeovil) to see his life’s work unravelling so fast before his closed eyes on election night either. Yeovil by now under the decent although essentially Tory Lib Dem David Laws went blue. Indeed everywhere except Exeter in the south west is now blue. 25% of the parliamentary party are now running against each other for leader. Neither contender looks even vaguely promising. Another 12.5% of the party is actually ex-leader Nick Clegg. It will take them decades to recover.

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But Exeter had survived. I had been photographed with Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw two weeks before the election. I had just completed my postal vote and by chance was the first proven Labour voter to be found by the Exeter Labour doorknockers. Bradshaw is a hugely popular MP and thus managed to triple his majority in the city even as everywhere else swung to the Tories. He is now running for Deputy Leader. His local campaign was very well organised and Bradshaw is a hugely motivational figure.Had the swing in the UK been replicated in Exeter, it would now be a Tory seat.

Ed-Miliband-v2

My hometown of Peterborough had been less lucky. I had been slightly involved in the campaign of the excellent Labour candidate Lisa Forbes and we seemed in luck: Tory MP of ten years Stewart Jackson seemed intent on showing how unpleasant he could be. He began the campaign with a damaging gaffe in which he essentially insulted a homosexual constituent. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-32128877

Some people would defend him if he had punched a baby or announced his support for Hitler: “Fair play to Jackson for standing up to the tyranny of political correctness etc etc etc ad infinitum”. But in fair play to the constituents of Peterborough, most people didn’t like it and there was a marked swing against Jackson although sadly not enough for him to lose the seat. However, he then proved those who had supported him decisively wrong with the least gracious victory speech ever.

http://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/politics/politics-news/re-elected-mp-stewart-jackson-in-controversial-victory-speech-1-6733039

Of course, this was not a good night for Labour overall. Cameron despite a lacklustre start to his campaign dominated by his cowardly avoidance of a TV debate and his possibly accidental announcement that he was planning to stand down before 2020, seemed to revive half way through.

Ed Miliband meanwhile fought much better than anyone expected. But at the end of the day, the Tories won fair and square. The expected Labour-led Hung Parliament became a Tory majority of 12 (actually their smallest ever post-war majority, although still a majority, unlike in 2010, or indeed any election in 23 years, in the Tories’ case).

(L-R) Ed Miliband the leader of the Labour Party, Leanne Wood the leader of Plaid Cymru, Nicola Sturgeon the leader of the SNP and David Cameron the leader of the Conservative Party and Britain's current prime minister take part in the leaders televised election debate at Media City in Salford in Northern England, in this April 2, 2015 handout picture provided by ITV.  REUTERS/Ken McKay/ITV/Handout via Reuters

I was as surprised as anyone, as indeed, was Cameron. So what went wrong for Labour?

  1. Miliband: Ed Miliband fought a much better campaign than expected. But there was always an image problem there. I am not convinced by the “wrong Miliband” argument which seems to be mainly espoused by the Tory press. David Miliband (who I voted for as party member in 2010) seems too arrogant and is barely less geeky than Ed. I genuinely doubt he would have done any better. That said, image shouldn’t matter as much as it does. Would Lincoln and Attlee have won today? Perhaps not. But it does matter. And there was clearly an image problem with Ed. He never looked or sounded like a winner.
  2. Labour in government spent too much on hospitals and schools and this caused the global slump. Absolute nonsense of course but the Tories said it so often that everyone believed it. And worse: Labour never attempted to deny it.
  3. The economy does seem to be doing well even if most people don’t seem to be feeling it.
  4. The SNP breakthrough. Nicola Sturgeon is great and Labour wouldn’t have won even if they had won every Scottish seat. But it didn’t help.
  5. The press waged a vicious campaign on Labour and Miliband. To be expected, of course, but not helpful.

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Now my story ends. Labour will return and we will face the future together once again.

I am 38, now, bearded and married. I show no signs yet of declining into Toryism in middle age.

Speak to you all again soon!

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Great myths of our time: Why Ed did not stab David Miliband in the back

The Labour Party Hold Their Annual Party Conference - Day 3

“That helps to explain why the history of socialism is littered with appalling personal betrayals, from the murder of Leon Trotsky to the smears and lies of Damian McBride… Ed Miliband’s excuse for knifing his brother was that it was the only way to ensure his beloved Labour Party was led by a true believer…” Toby Young, Daily Telegraph blog, 2013

“Younger brother Ed was the deceptively geeky assassin with the bow. He snatched the job David thought was his birthright…” Richard Pendlebury, Daily Mail, 2013.

“Do you regret stabbing him in the back or not?”TV audience member question to Ed Miliband during March 2015 BBC Three debate.

In 2010, Ed Miliband beat his older brother David for the Labour leadership. Of the many myths to arise out of the contest, none is more persistent than the argument promoted by the Tory press that Ed “betrayed”, “assassinated” or “stabbed his brother in the back” to get the job.

And guess what? It is absolute nonsense.

The September 2010 contest was won by Ed Miliband fair and square. In addition to David, he also beat Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott. Were they “stabbed in the back” too?

David Cameron beat David Davis to win the Tory leadership in 2005. Davis was initially the favourite to win.Did Cameron “betray” him by standing against him and winning? Of course not.

The term “assassinate” is sometimes appropriate in politics if one leader is overthrown by another. Margaret Thatcher arguably politically assassinated her leader Edward Heath by standing against him and winning. Although he never became Prime Minister himself, Michael Heseltine politically assassinated Thatcher herself fifteen years later in 1990. But David Miliband has never been leader.

But the difference is that the Milibands were brothers! How could Ed so cruelly deny his brother the job that was so rightfully his?

This is a strange argument. I repeat that Ed Miliband was elected in a free and open contest. Why should we assume David is more entitled to job than he is, when he lost the actual election?

Is it because David Miliband is older than his brother? Since when was this the rule? We are not talking about the royal family here. Both men had Cabinet experience too. In this, they were both more qualified for leadership than both Cameron and Clegg were on assuming office in 2010. Neither had

I actually very much doubt that David Miliband ever thought the leadership was his “birthright” either despite what the Mail claims above. If he did, he was supremely arrogant to think so. It was a bruising contest and I don’t doubt that David was upset to lose. But I doubt very much that he thinks there was anything constitutionally wrong with his brother beating him in a fair fight. If David had won would we now be accusing him of betraying his brother Ed? It makes no sense.

What about the unions who played such a role in Ed’s victory? Well, that is another issue. The leadership vote is divided equally three ways between Labour MPs, party members and union members. David won narrowly in the first two and lost narrowly in the third. David knew all three of these groups were crucial to the verdict. Ed won fair and square overall and contrary to tabloid myth has consistently taken a tough line against the unions from his leadership victory speech onward.

Five years on, despite endless relentless attacks from the Tory-owned press, Ed is close to David Cameron in terms of personal popularity. With Labour neck and neck with the Tories in the opinion polls, he stands a very good chance of becoming Prime Minister.

The Tory press who today attack Labour for electing “the wrong Miliband” as their leader are natural enemies of the Labour Party. Had David Miliband won in 2010, they would be attacking David Miliband with all the venom with which they now attack his brother.

The Tories: A poem

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We’re the Tories; hear us sing!

Blame Labour for everything.

The last thing we’d do is confess,

That we’re to blame for this whole mess!

Ten years past, our chief complaint,

Was that the markets faced constraint,

We’d have made the markets stronger,

The recession harsher, deeper, longer.

Never mind the crash elsewhere,

It’s easier to blame Brown and Blair.

Our public services are now a mess,

We’re iffy about the NHS,

Shall we “reorganise” it again? Well, we may,

But we won’t say a thing about that before May,

The press is safe from real reform,

While Rupert’s Sun keeps us all warm,

“Vote Tory” stories every day and

Silly pictures of Ed Miliband.

Frankly, we’ll do what it takes to win,

Even invite old UKIP in,

We’ll attack the scroungers, play the race card,

Kick the weakest good and hard,

Our leader Cameron’s liberal underneath,

A bit like Major or Ted Heath,

But like them he’s weak, you’ll see what we mean,

He’ll even sacrifice the European dream.

So if you don’t care about the national health,

Care only really about yourself.

We really are the party for you!

(Though we’ve not won since 1992).

Don’t get us wrong: we love the UK,

We just wish all the people would go away.

Why Labour must unite

Palace-of-Westminster-0365
There is no point pretending this has been an easy week for Labour. The Lib Dems may be quailing in the face of electoral Armageddon while many Tories still resent Cameron for both failing to win in 2010 and probably leading them to defeat now.
But it is Ed Miliband and Labour who have been making headlines this week.
Is this fair?
Ed Miliband has never had tremendously high personal ratings. Until this year, however, few people had a good answer as to why this was. Miliband’s stance on press and energy reform were well received.
There have been gaffes in recent months though, notably missing mention of the deficit from the conference speech. Holding a copy of The Sun in public was also an error as was the decision to allow himself to be photographed eating. Miliband looks no weirder eating than anyone else. But the press are not Labour’s friend. Pictures can always be selected to look bad. Nobody looks good when they are half blinking.
Does any of this really matter? Well, no. They are presentation issues essentially.
Would David Miliband now be going through the same ordeal were he now leader? There is no doubt. Look at the fuss that was made over him holding a banana in public (not even really a gaffe).
Unlike the Tories, Labour have a number of potential future leaders lined up: Andy Burnham, Chuka Umunna. Yvette Cooper.
But this isn’t the time.
Let us remember:
Ed Miliband is substantially older and more experienced than Caneron and Clegg were in 2010. Miliband has cabinet experience. They did not.
Ed Miliband has adopted a respectable policy on press reform rather than Cameron’s cowardly dishonorable one. Unfortunately, this is why the press hate him more than most other Labour leaders.
Cameron has proven extremely gaffe-prone appointing Andy Coulson despite a rising tide of evidence against him, introducing the absurd bedroom tax and u-turning on everything from the pasty tax to the privatisation of national parks.
The Tories simply cannot be trusted on the NHS. Labour can.
Britain needs to stay in the EU. Only Labour can ensure this.
And Labour are, despite everything, still set to win, probably with an overall majority.
The party must remain united in these crucial last six months.

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A song for UKIP

(Actually, more of a poem than a song…)

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Right wing chumps of the world unite!

It’s time to take a stand and fight,

It’s time to desert the sinking ship,

Leave the Tories: join UKIP!

Follow your heart and not your head,

Maggie would back us (were she not dead,)

Listen to the Mail, Telegraph and Express,

Say no to EU bureaucracy and excess!

Are you racist to a small degree?

We’re less scary than the BNP!

If the PC liberals had their way,

Everyone in the world would be gay.

The EU is far too large.

Vote for an Englishman named Farage.

Join the UKIP throng as we march today,

Towards a glorious yesterday!

The rest of us on Planet Earth,

Should cheer on UKIP for all our worth,

For like in 1983,

They’re splitters like the SDP.

For Farage and his doltish band,

Are giving Labour a helping hand,

The bigger the split grows on the Right,

The better things look on election night.

So if you are a lefty liberal type like me,

And value the NHS and BBC,

And don’t blame the poor for being poor,

Or lay all our ills at the immigrant’s door.

If you don’t want to make life a misery,

For the poorest and weakest in society,

Then pray that UKIP win some seats,

And help Labour into Downing Street.

Chris Hallam.