Stephen Kinnock, Neil and Glenys’ boy, was saying in the Guardian the other day that what Labour in Scotland really needs is a jolly good ‘re-branding’.
“…calling it the Scottish Democratic Labour party. Or the Scottish Radicals. Or the Scottish Progressive party.” He later clarifies that “the word ‘Labour’ has to stay in there, because we are the party that believes in productive, fulfilling work.” But otherwise, he says, the Scottish result requires Labour “to do some kind of radical rethinking and rebranding…”.
It’s the language of an Armando Ianucci comedy, of course and If I was a proper writer I’d just leave it at that, because Kinnock was elected just last week after a very average career in NGO-ville and has over that period spent little time in the UK, let alone Scotland. “Rebranding” – like a poor-man’s Douglas Alexander, mindlessely absorbing jargon from chocolate and pants marketeers, and then, worse, spewing it out as if it’s a meaningful contribution to anything? And which party doesn’t believe in “productive, fulfilling work” anyway? WT Actual F?
But as I’m not a proper writer, I’ll pop a couple of related things on the back-end here just out of self-indulgence.
Kinnock’s been all over the media this week and I’ve found him a bit of a curate’s egg, also emblematic in some ways. He interviews on radio and TV very well, although I think the broadcasters will ask him to be less long-winded in the coming months. His interview with the Guardian reminds me, a little, of a famous Lynn Barber interview (paywall) with Rafal Nadal where she probes him about his relationship with a girlfriend he obviously very rarely sees. Yet while there exist ambiguities that might affect Kinnock in future, my instinct is that his constituents will be proud of having a Kinnock around and will be fiercely protective of him. For Welsh people are GOOD (apart from the hats, obv).
So, Kinnock’s clever and personable with super political lineage (whether or not you appreciate Neil, which I do, and everyone loves Glenys) and has probably unwisely put himself out there too much too early – but we’ll see. What I find most interesting, though, is that he controverts the Red Princes idea of Labour MPs fixing it for their kids. In a classically mis-aimed New Statesman piece a while ago, written from Cairo, it was argued that Labour had a problem with nepotism – the Red Princes notion even became a meme for a while. Yet if you take a look at the picture of Red Princes in the piece, you’ll see that only Kinnock is now an MP. So much for that theory.
The truth is that Labour does have a pressing aristocracy problem, but it doesn’t relate to not-awfully-inspiring offspring (Euan Blair left a junior appointment with Morgan Stanley to work in Coventry? Erm…) – it’s about the extent to which the Blair and Brown era of power has given way to a period of powerlessness under back-room boys and girls who were never tested as politicians before they were placed at the very top of the pile by their patrons.
Patronage has always been a large part of politics, of course, but for the UK Labour Party at the moment, past and present patronage is everything.
So, Gordon’s special adviser has just lost an election, and because another of his special advisers has lost his seat, the party’s being asked to have another of the former’s special advisers (and the latter’s wife) as leader. Only that’s not going happen because David Blunkett’s special adviser is the one who ‘most impresses’ Len McLuskey. Ach, say some, if only Tony Blair’s special adviser wasn’t in New York being spiteful about his brother still, we wouldn’t have to rely on Harriet Harman’s special adviser getting on the ballot paper, because Peter Mandleson’s special adviser has ruled himself out now that he can’t get the numbers. Oh, but wait, Glenys Kinnock’s special adviser is having a go – no, false alarm, she’s just trying to get her face on telly. And we’ve gone full circle and disappeared up our own bottoms…
Stephen Kinnock? It’s the media who want him out there precisely because of the defunct Red Prince meme. And also because they want to build him up before they screw him. Whatever you think of Cameron, Osborne, May, Johnson, Salmond, Sturgeon, Clegg, Farron, the rest, they all had to win proper political battles on their own account, be seriously successful in the political arena, to get to the top. It’s only Labour that puts “Whose yer uncle?” first, and that’s a devastating combination of personal interest and self-destruction.
Two of the cleverest MPs I knew at the Commons were Davie Hamilton and Dave Anderson – there are plenty more Labour MPs like them. Both ex-miners, super-smart, emotionally intelligent, proper political operators yet thoroughly appealing people in the Alan Johnson mould. (Shadow) Cabinet ministers? No, of course not. For now, and for as long as Labour has no serious hope of winning an election, such folk are just “cheeky northern/Scot rascals ‘up to no good” (para 6)’.