William Hague unveiling his waxwork at Madame Tussauds in 1997. Photo: Dave Gaywood/AFP/Getty
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You find out who your friends are when you’re following William Hague and Ffion round the States

“Can you tell us who he is? So we know which one to photograph?”

There are many good reasons not to like someone. But sometimes it’s personal.

Once, you see, I was asked to follow William Hague around America. It was back in the mists of time when he was leader of the Tory party and he and his team were to go to the States to learn about this great newfangled idea, “compassionate conservatism”.

His press people cleared my presence on the trip.

I never understand why the Tories don’t just embrace “callous conservatism”. You cannot combine empathy with cold-bloodedness, any more than Hague could make himself lovable with a baseball cap and a blonde wife.

All were very keen that I get to see Ffion up close. Newspapers, even the high-minded ones, have an unhealthy interest in the wives of politicians, whereas I couldn’t care less if they’ve married a waste-paper basket.

So there I was in New York, embarrassed, really. No one in the States had a clue who Hague was. I stood outside a plush hotel as he went to breakfast with Henry Kissinger (Compassion Central) and all the American journalists were interviewing me.

“Can you tell us who he is? So we know which one to photograph?”

It was the same at a school in what used to be called Spanish Harlem. There I saw what compassionate conservatism meant: rows of kids doing science under banners “Sponsored by Estée Lauder”, or English literature “Helped by McDonald’s”. The Puerto Rican girls were excited by the arrival of English people.

“Do you know the Spice Girls?” they asked me.

“No.”

Hague’s advisers attempted that dreadful fake interest in the schoolkids’ work.

The girls did their nails.

Two other journalists arrived. One had missed his flight and had an overstuffed suitcase: Boris Johnson. The other was Michael Gove, who was nothing but charming and helpful to me.

We had to go to Austin, to meet the then governor of Texas, George Dubbya Bush. All these guys were travelling together on some Tory transport. They could have easily let me on, but no, they would not.

One callow boy of 27 would not look at me, or let me near Hague. His disdain was apparent. He and the Tory journalists all got on the prearranged plane but he wouldn’t let me board. As a result, I had to trail around on my own, booking tickets and arriving at places alone in the middle of the night.

The young man who would not speak to me wrote speeches for Hague. They say you’re either on the bus or off the bus: he certainly did not want the likes of me near any bus he was on. I was not one of them. He didn’t even bother with the rudimentary courtesies of the well-born. For the few days he had any kind of power over me, he chose to make my life way more difficult than it needed to be. Making people’s lives more difficult turned out to be his life’s work. His name was Gideon Osborne. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 06 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, How Islamic is Islamic State?

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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.