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27 August 2015

Lost tipple, cricket quandaries and why today’s Blairites should shut up

Blair’s strength, according to John Rentoul, a sympathetic biographer, was his ability “to pick up and reflect back the banality of the majority”. David Cameron does that perfectly well.

By Peter Wilby

One of the more enjoyable features of the Labour leadership contest is the discomfort of the Blairites. They wail that Jeremy Corbyn’s success is all Ed Miliband’s fault: he allowed “supporters” to “register” for £3 without joining the party, thus widening the franchise for the contest and turning it into a distant cousin of the US primaries. That, they argue entertainingly, gave votes to the wrong sort of people. Yet Blair’s achievement was supposedly that he persuaded millions who hadn’t previously thought of themselves as Labour to vote for (and even join) a party remodelled as “the political wing of the British people”. What happened to those millions? If Blairism was such a success, and if (as we are told by Blairites) voters are desperate to see a revival of its principles and policies, why didn’t they pay their £3 each so they could support its standard-bearer, Liz Kendall?

The truth is that, for all his talk about making Labour into the natural governing party, Blair did little more than create an election-winning machine that allowed the nation a brief respite from the Tories. He did not offer a guiding philosophy that could endure beyond his departure. He showed little interest in cultivating a following that would continue and develop his legacy. As Peter Riddell, the former Times political commentator, once observed, he “failed to remake the [Labour] Party in his image”: the new MPs of 2005 were overwhelmingly Gordon Brown’s supporters.

Blair’s strength, according to John Rentoul, a sympathetic biographer, was his ­ability “to pick up and reflect back the banality of the majority”. David Cameron does that perfectly well. Tony Blair and his supporters have nothing else to offer, and they should shut up.


Amazing Amazon

Jeff Bezos, the founder and boss of Amazon, expresses shock at a 5,400-word New York Times story about how brutally his employees are treated by their managers. “I don’t recognise this Amazon,” he says in an email to staff. If he had seen a Channel 4 documentary in August 2013 or a Daily Mail article in the same month or a Sunday Times report in December 2008 or a Guardian report in April 2001, to give just a few examples, he would recognise it all too well.

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Perhaps he is too busy to keep up with the world’s media. If so, the solution to his problem is to recognise an established trade union, which he has persistently refused to  do, and encourage employees to join it. The union would helpfully provide him with a steady flow of information on what working for Amazon is really like.


Felt collars

Though I have long been sceptical about the value of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, the longer its publication is delayed, the more expectant I become. The reason for the delay, we are told, is not that Sir John Chilcot, struggling on his civil service pension, wants to keep drawing his £790-a-day fee. Rather, it is that several of the 150 individuals who were notified that they would be criticised have raised objections. If their objections are so troublesome and persistent as to cause Chilcot to delay the report so long, the criticisms must surely be severe.

The inquiry is not a war crimes tribunal. But is it possible that its revelations, or at least its language, will increase significantly the chances that some prosecutions may succeed? Could senior plods, who seem keen to haul almost anybody in for questioning nowadays, take it upon themselves to feel the collars of certain luminaries of the New Labour era? Hopes, as newspapers used to say when reporting industrial disputes, are rising.


Leg before ticket

To Yorkshire, where the Daily Mirror columnist Paul Routledge, an old friend and fellow Corbyn-sceptic, takes me to view Skipton’s fine bronze statue of the great Yorkshire and England fast bowler Fred Trueman. Routledge says he has never seen such a statue anywhere else. Unsurprisingly so, I discover: according to a database maintained by Sheffield University, Trueman’s is one of only five statues of cricketing heroes in the whole country. Even W G Grace’s cricketing prowess has earned only one statue (it’s at Lord’s) and that was unveiled as recently as 2000. Bizarrely, another in Stafford, commemorating his contribution late in life to bowls, preceded it.

All over Britain, one finds statues to long-forgotten MPs and aldermen, but popular heroes are rarely honoured in such fashion. The singer Gracie Fields died 36 years ago but Rochdale, her home town, has only just got round to planning a statue. Though cricketers play what is said to be the most quintessentially English game, they are particularly neglected. Footballers, as you’d expect, have the most statues (90) and athletes, boxers, golfers, rugby players of both codes and even motorcycle racers all have more memorials than cricketers do. Only tennis, of the big sports, does worse, with just two players’ statues. By contrast, Australia has 21 statues to cricketers and the US about 250 to baseball stars.

Shouldn’t the MCC, supposedly the guardian of cricket’s history and traditions, do something about this?


White whine

For health news, it is important to read the Daily Mail, which will tell you if last week’s miracle anti-cancer food has turned into this week’s cancer-inducing poison. The latest news concerns the alcohol intake limits, hitherto set at 21 units a week if you’re a man and 14 if you’re a woman. Now, if we believe the Mail, men over 55 are entitled to another seven units a week, while women should be drinking less. The Wilby household’s evening bottle of Sauvignon Blanc will be reapportioned accordingly, but it is distressing to learn that, on a rough calculation, I have been cheated out of the equivalent of 546 bottles of wine over the past 15 years. Can I sue anybody?

Follow Peter Wilby on Twitter: @wilbypeter