Why Labour politicans hate each other and I loved reading Melanie Phillips

Tory tensions, "cowardly" killers, and Cameron's bunny ears.

Labour has a terrible problem and it must face it. Why do its leading figures hate each other so much more than the Tories hate each other? The past three years may have looked peaceable but that’s only because the press doesn’t pay much attention to opposition parties. The old tensions between the Brown and Blair camps are never far below the surface and Damian McBride’s serialised memoirs recall the intensity of the personal hatreds that seethed during 13 years of government and, in some cases, began earlier.
 
Tensions in the Tory party are mostly based on policy and ideology, usually to do with Europe. Michael Gove and Ken Clarke don’t get along because one is a Eurosceptic neocon and the other isn’t. Yet it was always hard to pin down the political differences between Blair and Brown. And why did Brown and the late Robin Cook hate each other? Why did Brown hate Ken Livingstone (later embracing him so warmly that no man could put them asunder)? Why did John Prescott and Margaret Beckett hate Cook?
 
There were other feuds that didn’t involve either Blair or Brown but even I now forget them. Nor were such feuds new for Labour governments. The 1945-51 administration was full of them. Someone once suggested to Ernest Bevin that Herbert Morrison was his own worst enemy. “Not while I’m alive, he ain’t,” Bevin replied.
 
Let’s face it, a coalition of separate parties has got along more amiably than Labour cabinets ever did.
 
Words to the wise
 
William Hague describes the terrorist attacks in Nairobi as “callous, cowardly and brutal”. I have no quarrel with “callous” and “brutal” but why “cowardly”? The word is nearly always used by politicians on these occasions. My New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines a coward as “a person who shows unworthy fear in the face of danger, pain or difficulty”, which hardly seems to fit the perpetrators of the Nairobi attacks.
 
What I suppose Hague and others mean is that the terrorists shot people who had no means of fighting back. The same, however, could be said of anyone who launches a drone attack or drops bombs from the air. In reality, “cowardly” is used to counter the terrorists’ description of themselves as “armies” and their members as “soldiers”, words that carry connotations of courage and self-sacrifice.
 
But as good stylists through the ages have advised, adjectives and adverbs, being frequently superfluous, are best kept to a minimum. What happened in Nairobi was horrible enough without rhetorical elaboration.
 
National wealth service
 
Another term that politicians use – and which we shall hear often as the Tory conference gets under way – is “wealth creators”. Labour will “penalise” them, warns Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary. Yet most of the people the Tories defend from high taxes don’t create wealth, except for themselves. The financial services industry – with its highly paid bankers, accountants, advisers, consultants, PRs, lawyers and salespeople – is entirely unproductive. It is best described as not wealthcreating but parasitic: levying what amounts to a tax that, according to some estimates, adds up to 25 per cent of everything we earn. To be sure, selling financial services overseas creates British jobs and helps the balance of payments – but governments should promote better ways of earning our living.
 
Mannish Monday
 
One should mourn Melanie Phillips’s departure from her Monday-morning column in the Daily Mail and not just because, after reading her, one knew the week could only get better. Her replacement, the former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson, brings to 12 the number of men who occupy regular slots in the main section of the Mail – excluding business, sport, travel, and so on – against just four women, none of whom normally appears in the slot next to the leader, which is reserved for heavyweight political and policy issues. And this is supposed to be the women’s paper.
 
Jumping on the bandwagon
 
Pompous denunciations greeted the “bunny ears” sign that the rugby player Manu Tuilagi made above David Cameron’s head during a photo shoot at a Downing Street reception for the British Lions after their victorious tour of Australia.
 
“Unforgivable” was the common verdict of rugby pundits – many of them former players from the amateur era, when it was routine for touring parties to trash hotels – though Cameron promptly tweeted forgiveness after Tuilagi apologised. But what do prime ministers expect when they invite boisterous young men for drinks at No 10?
 
To my mind, Tuilagi’s gesture was an appropriate commentary on how politicians scramble to jump aboard any bandwagon of sporting success.
British and Irish Lions rugby player Manu Tuilagi gives Cameron bunny ears. Image: Getty

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

Photo: Getty
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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.