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6 January 2010

Brown v Hewitt and Hoon

These two Blairites have no right to suggest anything

By Mehdi Hasan

James broke the story of how “a letter is being circulated among Labour MPs this afternoon calling for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown’s leadership”. It has now been confirmed that the two former cabinet ministers co-ordinating the ballot idea are indeed Geoff Hoon, the former transport and defence secretary, and Patricia Hewitt, the former health secretary.

But here’s what’s bugging me: why on earth should we give a damn what these two non-entities think about anything? In fact, what is the point of people like Hoon, Hewitt, Milburn, Byers, Hutton et al? What did they ever do of any substance? For the benefit of this country — or even their own party? Can anyone tell me what Hoon or Hewitt’s legacies at Transport, Defence or Health were?

Over at the Guardian, Martin Kettle, a Blairite, claims laughably:

. . . this is not . . . a revolt of the usual suspects. It is not an attempted Blairite coup.

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Really? If Hoon and Hewitt are not “usual suspects”, then who are? And what proud track records do they bring with them?

* Did Hoon/Hewitt oppose the Iraq war?

On the contrary, both backed it in public and in private. Hoon, of course, was defence secretary at the time, and famously remarked on the Today programme that the Iraqi mother of a child killed by a British cluster bomb might “one day” thank him.

* Did Hoon/Hewitt campaign for MPs’ expenses reform?

On the contrary, Hoon was one of the “flippers” in Brown’s cabinet. The irony, as the Guardian points out, is that when he was accused of not paying capital gains tax on his second home at the height of the scandal, “Brown went to bat for him, saying Hoon acted ‘within the letter of the law and the spirit of the parliamentary rules’, which contrasted starkly with the Prime Minister’s criticism of fellow minister Hazel Blears.”

* Did Hoon/Hewitt express doubts about Labour’s disastrous deference to corporate and City interests in the Nineties and Noughties?

On the contrary, in January 2008, only six months(!) after standing down as health secretary, Hewitt took on a lucrative job as “special consultant” to Alliance Boots. She also became a “special adviser” to Cinven, one of the world’s biggest private equity companies, which paid £1.4bn for Bupa’s UK hospitals in 2007.

My own view, this afternoon, is quite simple: whatever Brown’s faults and flaws (and there are many!), and whatever the pros or cons of a secret ballot, if Hewitt and Hoon are in favour of it, then I’m opposed to it. This pair of self-interested, self-serving, right-wing dullards are not the saviours of the government, the Labour Party, or the country. (For example, does anyone out there honestly believe that Geoff Hoon would be co-ordinating anti-Brown plots had he been rewarded by Brown with the EU Commission post he so craved?)

Oh, and to finish with, here’s a rather apt extract from Hewitt’s 2007 resignation letter to the Prime Minister:

I look forward, of course, to giving you my wholehearted support from the back benches.