How is life in the House of Lords?
When I was chairman of the British Council, I didn’t go a lot. But I’ve been more in the last ten months or so. It’s not a preoccupation.
And is the Lords all it should be?
Oh, no – it should be abolished. Before I accepted the nice invitation to go, I asked Robin Cook what he’d do. He said, “If we’re going to change it, we need people there to vote for it.”
What about electoral reform more generally?
I’ve long been in favour [of it]. I will enthusiastically campaign for it and vote for it.
How would you feel about a Lib-Lab coalition? A cabinet with Nick Clegg or Vince Cable in it?
I’m not even going to speculate on that. I am not as fearful of hung parliament as some. What the country wants is stability.
Many believe that having Cable as chancellor, for example, could help achieve stability.
The likely outcome of this election is more difficult to predict than any other in our political life. I’ve got a lot of time for Vince. I’d have more time for him if he hadn’t torn up his Labour Party card, of course.
When was the Labour Party at its best?
Probably in 1997. Gutsy, purposeful. I hugely respect the party of 1945, but we’re not fighting the same battles.
And who are the party’s rising stars now?
Ed Miliband, definitely. Ed Balls. And Yvette Cooper has massive potential. I knew her when she was a student – she’s a very good woman.
Are any of them a future Labour leader? The future is a long time. And if I was to single one out, I would probably ruin their career.
Why isn’t Gordon Brown more popular?
He has been poisonously misrepresented by the press. People say they haven’t been as nasty to anyone since I was leader, but I hadn’t been the chancellor of the Exchequer, and Gordon produced this long period of sustained growth.
What part have the Murdochs played?
They never intended to support us. Untrustworthiness is in their DNA.
Do you regret Labour’s courtship of them?
Tactically, it was handy, but a democracy that defers to them is a much-weakened democracy.
Will Labour win a majority on 6 May?
At the moment, it doesn’t look like it. But it is within reach. The cliché “too close to call” really fits. And the current electoral system makes it even closer.
Why are the polls looking so bad now?
Thirteen years is one reason. Some in the party speak to journalists like therapists, articulating worries about this person, that figurehead.
Aren’t there other considerations – Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance?
Iraq and Afghanistan certainly don’t help. And I recognise the depth of feeling generated. But the people who are most concerned by the circumstances of these wars should be the most ready to support a progressive government.
What are your memories of the 1992 election?
The biggest difficulty was not communicating my conviction that we couldn’t make it. I told Charles Clarke I only had a dilemma if we lost by ten seats: then I might have to hang on.
Do you regret shouting, “We’re all right!” at the Sheffield rally in 1992?
It wasn’t until about ten days after the election that people started writing about the “hubristic Sheffield rally” and all the rest of it. Given my time again, I wouldn’t repeat it – but the great legend is complete, bloody rubbish.
What political decision do you regret most?
I didn’t call for a ballot at the start of the miners’ strike in 1984. I’ll regret that until my dying day.
Does Labour still need the unions?
They played a very significant part in the party’s formation and survival. It’s vital the alliance continues. The myth is that he who pays the piper calls the tune. They never called the tune.
Your wife, Glenys, is a minister of state now. What is it like being married to a politician?
We’ve been married for 43 years, and the reason we maintain such loving amity is that we’ve only lived together for two. Glenys has a mission: justice. I watch her in action and think, “My God, I’m glad I’m on her side.”
Was there a plan?
No. My first real experience of ambition was as party leader. It was my ambition for Labour to win, in which event I would be prime minister.
What would you like to forget?
I could tell you the things I would rather hadn’t happened. But those, I simply can’t forget.
Are we all doomed?
Far from it. This is the best time to be alive.