Goodbye Mr Milburn. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I am fed up of the media myth about the Blairites.

Gaby Hinsliff has an interesting, if provocative, piece on the Guardian's Comment Is Free. She thinks Labour has "taken the bait on Alan Milburn's coalition role" and mocks the "considered" response of the left ("Well, good riddance to Blairite rubbish, eh?"). Some highlights from her piece:

Right now, the left is too busy behaving like a teenage girl who dumps her loser boyfriend only to react furiously when he goes out with someone else, loudly protesting about how she never fancied him anyway . . . The relevant question should be whether the supposed traitors still have any original, creative thinking left in them -- or whether they are a bunch of broken records, wrung dry by years of Whitehall grind . . . That means working out fast who else is on David Cameron's speed-dial -- Peter Mandelson? Charles Clarke? David Blunkett? James Purnell? -- and whether Labour should get its own offer in first. (Tip: sometimes it shouldn't.) But it would also mean establishing why some of Labour's bigger beasts are wandering off the reservation . . . But it does need Milburn if it seeks to imply that the Labour Party is splitting asunder and its reformist right wing (like it or not, to some swing voters, its electable wing) is deserting the sinking ship.

I would question a lot of this. First, how do you define "creative thinking"? Being right-wing?? And who or what is a "big beast"? James Purnell?? Blunkett, who left the cabinet in disgrace on not one, but two occasions? Mandelson, who may have been the second-most-powerful man in the land until 6 May, but has since become a joke figure? Charles Clarke, who could never muster enough support in the Parliamentary Labour Party to challenge Brown and couldn't even keep hold of his own seat? These people represent the "electable wing" of the party? Really? I mean, really??

I, for one, am fed up with the media myth that suggests the Blairites were the cool dudes in the dull Labour gang, that they were popular and/or adored, and that they single-handedly won general elections for the party. Did anyone ever say to themselves, "I'm voting Labour because of Alan Milburn"? Did people take to the street in protest when Blunkett was sacked from the cabinet? Did the likes of Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon and Stephen Byers help or hinder the Labour re-election effort this year, when they were outed by Channel 4's Dispatches grubbing for cash? And did anyone really doubt that the ultra-Blairites such as Milburn and Hutton were closer to the Tories, in their pro-market, pro-privatisation, pro-rich ideology, than to the Labour Party, new or old?

Call me an unreconstructed, tribal lefty but I can't help but disagree with pretty much everything in Hinsliff's piece. For once, I'm with John Prescott. "Collaborators" might seem a little excessive, but Milburn, Frank Field, John Hutton et al are doing the exact same job for the coalition as the Liberal Democrats: they are providing ideological cover for a regressive Budget and an all-out assault on the public sector.

Here is Ed Miliband's response to the Milburn decision, which he shared with the New Statesman earlier today:

If Alan had asked my advice on whether he should be an adviser to the government on social reform and mobility I would have said it was a bad idea. I think you always have to weigh the influence you can have -- because Alan will have wanted to try and make their policy better -- with the credibility that you give them. I'm afraid that any influence that he might have will be outweighed by the credibility he will give them. He is someone who worked on social mobility, and when you look at what they are doing on housing benefit, on VAT, on council tenancies, tax credits -- the list of public services is very long -- they're certainly not going to promote social mobility. I think that now he has accepted this role, he better speak out against what they are doing on these issues.

Will we hear an anti-Cameron peep from Alan "Pepsico" Milburn? I doubt it.

By the way, on a side note, one of the few refreshing and satisfying aspects of the Labour leadership contest is that all the candidates -- from the "Brownites" Ed Balls and Ed Miliband to the "Blairites" Andy Burnham and David Miliband -- agree that it is time to move on from New Labour, and put Tony Blair and Gordon Brown behind us. Hear, hear!

Oh, and before the New Labour outriders start parachuting into the comment section "below the line" and smugly pointing out that "Tony Blair won three elections", let me add that I don't disagree. But am I expected to believe that Milburn, Blunkett, Byers, Hoon and Hewitt were responsible for them? Am I supposed to forget that Labour, under Blair, shed four million votes between 1997 and 2005? Or ignore the fact that his victories were guaranteed by a combination of a majoritarian, first-past-the-post system with a built-in, pro-Labour bias and a crazed Conservative Party that chose William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard over Kenneth Clarke?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era