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

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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