Ralph Miliband on Labour memoirs

Blair's magnum opus confirms what Miliband père knew 50 years ago.

We shouldn't be surprised by the tortuous self-justifications, not to mention the luridly overheated prose, of Tony Blair's new book. As the father of two of the men vying to be Blair's successor-but-one put it nearly 50 years ago: "Labour leaders do not write good memoirs."

This was how Ralph Miliband began a review (£) in early 1961 of the autobiography of Peter Mandelson's grandfather, Herbert Morrison. He went on:

As a contribution to history in general and to Labour history in particular, his book is virtually worthless . . . and as personal account of politics-as-lived, it is scarcely better. Why then bother? Because Labourism needs to be better understood and because Morrison's story, for all its deficiencies (in some ways because of them), affords some help to that better understanding.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Poem: "When the Americans came"

“Do you have vampires around here?”

When the Americans came,

they didn’t take to our gardens:

the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,

foxgloves growing among the runner beans.


“Do you have vampires around here?”

a visitor from Carolina asked me.

It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,

nodding wisely as though apologising


for the ill manners of King George,

the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.

But come the softe sonne,

there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,


forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,

lettuce and spring onions for a salad.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat*


I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,

and didn’t care to listen to a boy.

They preferred the red rosehips

we used for making wine.


Danced outside the village church

round the maypole Jack Parnham made.

Now they’re gone,

the wild garlic has returned.


* W B Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”


William Bedford is a novelist, children’s author and poet. His eighth collection of verse, The Bread Horse, is published by Red Squirrel Press.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood