9 Jan 2016 at 13:27
Some interesting Wilson memorabilia has hit the news today. Mary, his widow, is a hundred years old and Joe Haines, his legendary press secretary, has written for a call to arms in the New Statesman. I’ve always rather liked Joe as an interesting teller of tales, but I am in the minority. Gerald Kaufman, who was in Wilson’s kitchen cabinet, once told me that introducing Joe to Wilson was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. The lobby hated him as a former lobby hack turned traitor, particularly as his view was that his job was to support the Prime Minister and not them. Relations were very chilly.
But like him or loath him Joe has a wealth of experience which today’s politicians would be foolish to ignore. In 1974 Wilson had a majority of three, a party horribly divided on two fronts, Europe and the left, and there was also an economic crisis to put the cherry on the top of the cake. We all are aware that in 1975 he called a referendum in which ministers were allowed to depart from collective responsibility. It all sounds a bit familiar.
So what lessons can both parties learn from these troubled times? Firstly, as we have seen in Scotland, referendums do not end with the result. If the Remains win, which I suspect that they will, it is unlikely that hardcore Brexiteers will crawl back under their stones. They will claim that the whole process was unfair, and that Brussels with the Whitehall machine loaded the dice. So if you think that whatever the result there will not be a Tory bloodbath dream on. The campaign is going to be short and brutish. Who Scares Wins. And as for Labour’s EU split, it is nothing compared the the chasm between the leadership and his MPs.
The lesson of the sixties and beyond it that you can’t compromise with the left, you have to smash them. And the longer you wait the more difficult it becomes. The Haines solution is for a mass walk out MPs taking shelter under another umbrella. This would leave Bercow with a bit of a dilemma. Who becomes the official opposition? Well it’s a no brainer; the party with the second largest majority in the House. And so, the theory goes, the wheels of Livingstone/Corbyn charabanc fall off. But it would require a lot of courage and money. I don’t think that the money will be too much of a problem as it is the only chance Labour donors have of not having a party that is totally destroyed in 2020.
So who would lead them? I see that Dan Jarvis is given quite a puff in the Guardian today. As a former soldier with a great back story, courage does not appear be too much of a problem. But timing is. It has to be after the May elections. Any fool knows that Labour will face carnage then. Any hint of a walk out will allow the Corbynista rubbish machine to place the blame on the walkers. But it would not be wise to have a major distraction just before the referendum.
The party conference in September is astrologically the best bet. Momentum would have packed the hall with its members, so Livingstone will be the back street driver of a lethal pile up. Do it the day before the conference and cause the maximum damage and give Bercow time to think as Parliament is not sitting.
Jarvis needs some big beasts in the Shadow Cabinet. Watson is dangerously quiet. There have been no speeches or interviews praising the re kerfuffle. Worse, Milne has made a terrible tactical blunder by leaking to the press that Watson was never consulted on it. It is unwise to poke a big beast with sharp sticks, particularly if it has its own mandate.
But I am not optimistic. Despite the blather, MPs can be quite timid creatures and hope that something will turn up. Well, it won’t. This is the Last Chance Saloon and its drinking up time.