Friday, 29 December 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 29 December 2000

There are probably only four or five months before the next general election, but it is remarkable just how little interest the impending contest is creating.

The assumption of just about every pundit – with some justification, given the opinion polls, the recent round of by-elections and the dire state of William Hague's Tories – is that Labour will walk it. The big questions about the election are the turnout and the size of the Labour majority. In other words, one, will anyone bother? And, two, how easily will Labour win?

The two questions have related answers: the fewer people bother, the fewer seats Labour will win, because the voters most likely to abstain are those who would vote Labour if they could be bothered. For what it is worth, my hunch is that, come election time, abstention will not deny Labour a clear majority, but I'm not putting money on it. Sorry to be boring, but, like every other hack on every other paper, I think that – barring accidents (and I'm not ruling them out) – we're looking at a second term for Tony Blair and his crew.

Which means that the really juicy story is who's in and who's out in the New Labour Government after it is returned. Over the past couple of weeks, the papers have been filled with speculation. Will John Prescott be given the heave-ho after his miserable performance in the transport brief? Perhaps he will get Cabinet enforcer? Will Robin Cook survive at the Foreign Office, which Peter Mandelson so covets? After Nice, he looks safe, or maybe not. And what about David Blunkett's apparent desire for the Home Office – or is it something else? Could there be a constitutional supremo, and if so who should get the job?

I do not pretend to have inside information on any of this – and you should not trust any journalist who claims otherwise. But I know what I think Tony Blair should do. And this is it:

Get rid of Jack Straw as Home Secretary. He has always been one of Labour's most useless chumps, ever since his days as president of the National Union of Students. In his current job he
has been an authoritarian-populist useless chump, responsible for a succession of idiotic illiberal law-and-ordure measures that have had no effect whatsoever on crime rates but do untold damage to the most vulnerable people in our society. Give him the Cabinet Office or something else where he cannot do any more damage. And, whatever happens, keep him away from anything to do with abroad, where his idiotic Europhobia would do untold damage.

Don't give Blunkett Straw's job. The current Education Secretary is even more of an intuitive authoritarian than the Home Secretary. Keep him where he is, where he has done some good work – and do not move him to anything to do with abroad unless it is the Ministry of Defence, where his antipathy to wasting money on stupid projects would be quite useful (and in line with what Gordon Brown would like).

Abandon Derry Irvine. The Lord Chancellor is not only a pompous twit – he is also indolent, incompetent and a constitution al conservative. Time for Blair to sever the sentimental link. (The
same goes for "Proper" Charlie Falconer.)

Keep Cook as Foreign Secretary. He has done a good job. If he moves, it should be to take responsibility for constitutional reform, with an out-and-out pro-European replacing him at the FO. That means not Straw, Prescott, Margaret Beckett or any of the
other obvious figures apart from – I never thought I'd write this – Peter Mandelson.

Kick Prescott upstairs. His performance over the past three years has been risible, particularly on transport. He's almost as useless as Jack Straw. (But do not give his job to Gus Macdonald, once a Tribune office boy: he is even worse in his current role than he was here. Michael Meacher – no, I mean it – would be a better bet.) Deputy PM with no departmental responsibilities is just about Prezza's level.

Fire a few Brownies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has done a reasonable job in his own department, but his accolytes elsewhere have by and large been dreadful.

Don't promote the clones. Stephen Milburn, Alan Byers, Patricia Morris, Estelle Clarke – you know who I mean – give us a break – please.

Oh well, at least we can dream.


Finally, an admission. I got it wrong in a column earlier this year on the state of football, in which I predicted tough times for my team, Ipswich Town, in the premiership this season. As I write, we are third in the division, and the North Stand is singing:
We can’t read, we can’t write
But that don’t really matter
We come down from Ipswich Town
Riding on our tractors
It's much more fun than politics.

Friday, 8 December 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 8 December 2000

Alf Lomas, the former Labour MEP for North East London who briefly led the British Labour Group in the European Parliament during the 1980s, was never my favourite politician. A numbskull Europhobe, he seemed to me to represent the worst of the old Labour left. I met him only once, when I debated the merits of the single European currency with him at a sparsely attended party meeting above a Labour club in Hackney. I remember him as extraordinarily rude – while I was speaking he made a point of noisily tearing up pieces of paper in a childish attempt to put me off – though I think his hostility might have been the result of some idiot telling him I was after his seat.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him last week when he became the latest victim of the Sunday Times in its long-running campaign of naming and shaming supposed one-time Soviet bloc agents in the Labour movement. The allegation that he was an informant for the Stasi, the East German secret police, is not radically at odds with his publicly expressed sympathies for the police states of "actually existing socialism". But given the Sunday Times 's record of making preposterous claims about reds under the bed – most notoriously when it claimed in 1995 that Michael Foot was a KGB agent – it is difficult to have any confidence in its judgment.

This sense is reinforced by what the paper did with what appears to be the most solid piece of evidence it has managed to dig up on this story, an index of key Stasi reports relating to Britain from the 1970s and 1980s. In print, the Sunday Times told a gripping tale of how it came to light, selectively reporting its contents to suggest that important figures in the Labour Party colluded with the East German spooks. It was only when readers went to the paper's website, where the document was published without comment, that they could see what to any unblinkered observer is the real story it reveals – the extent to which the Stasi's efforts in Britain were concentrated upon and directed against Labour and the non-communist left.

Dozens of the reports listed in the index relate to the internal affairs of the Labour Party: it is clear that the Stasi had informants, witting or unwitting, at party headquarters throughout the 1970s and 1980s. But far more of the entries are on the peace movement – with a particular emphasis on European Nuclear Disarmament, the campaign set up in 1980 by Edward Thompson, Ken Coates, Mary Kaldor and others to push for a "nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal".

END (of whose magazine I was deputy editor) made a point of opposing Soviet nuclear arms, supporting independent movements in the Soviet bloc against them. As well as playing a key role in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – notably in ensuring that its pro-Soviet minority was effectively marginalised for most of the 1980s – its activists visited eastern Europe to engage in face-to-face dialogue with dissidents and peace groups. To the Stasi, we were the enemy, a "hostile peace movement", and the Sunday Times document suggests that the East German spooks had at least eight people filing reports on our activities.

I was never so naïve as think the Stasi would have turned a blind eye to END, and last year a television documentary by the journalist David Rose revealed that it had a mole inside the organisation in London. But the scale of Stasi attention suggested by the Sunday Times document is genuinely surprising. END, though undoubtedly influential, was always a small group, with a core in Britain of some 200-300 people and perhaps a few thousand active sympathisers who read the magazine, came along to meetings and gave the group money.

So how come the Stasi took us so seriously? It doesn't fit in with the Sunday Times view of the world, according to which everyone on the left is tainted by being "soft" on communism, but the reason is that we were a thorn in the side of the Soviet bloc authorities. By shouting loudly about Soviet militarism as well as Nato's nuclear modernisation, we effectively undermined their efforts to portray themselves as the friends of the peace movement – which in turn ensured that the pro-Soviet caucus in CND never got anywhere. And by engaging publicly with dissidents and independent peaceniks in the eastern bloc, we challenged in a small way the legitimacy of single-party police-state socialism.

Of course, it's ancient history now. But as long as the likes of the Sunday Times see fit to smear the left as dupes of Moscow and its satellites, it remains essential to make it clear that, in fact, most of us weren't.