Turns out it isn’t just Labour that has problems with its former leaders. Today’s papers are full of interventions by two other retired panjandrums.
One of those won the highest vote ever cast in a British general election. He went on to lose, badly, but even then led his party to more votes than were subsequently harvested by Messrs Hague, Howard, Blair (in 2005), Brown and Miliband. He knows more than most about keeping a fractious party together and negotiating with Europe. He provided a thoughtful and realistic appraisal of the country’s situation as it prepares for Brexit. In his speech he showed his clear hopes that the country would come together in common cause.
The other has been hanging around with plutocrats. He wants a gong, and a simple OBE or MBE won’t do. A knighthood would perhaps be sufficient, perhaps a Lordship? He thinks his party’s one MP has not been treating this matter with the necessary urgency and seriousness it warrants. For this and for policy disagreements, he believes, the MP must be purged from the party. He believes that half his fellow citizens are not ‘real’ or ‘decent’. He is backed in his endeavours by a former donor to the party, who is demanding power over it and threatening to challenge the MP at the next election.
The Daily Mail today called one of these two former leaders ‘vain’. They wheeled out Iain Duncan Smith, without irony, to label Major a bitter failure, and got Quentin Letts to do one of those little character assassination sketches he takes such obvious delight in writing. The foreign secretary responded to Major’s call for ‘a little more charm and a lot less cheap rhetoric’ by repeating a joke that is known to irritate our European partners (and anyone generally with a sense of humour).
Of course, it’s in the interests of the Mail, Duncan Smith, Johnson and others to whip up divisions. They are doing all they can to identify scapegoats for when their snarling diplomacy has its predictable results. ‘Taking back control’ always meant ‘shut up and do what you’re told’ and no one should be surprised at that. And I know that Ukip is, their prancing former leader aside, increasingly irrelevant other than to make Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour seem like a finely-tuned election-winning machine. But it’s the sense of entitlement, not just from Farage but from Banks that – snowflake that I am – I can’t just get beyond. Banks is openly threatening to use his money to take over a reasonably large if chaotic political party, and no one is calling him out on it.
Poor John McDonnell. Alone with his typewriter he invented the soft coup, then disinvented it, but it got lots of coverage anyway. Meanwhile Banks and Farage are actually trying to mount a coup but although it’s being reported there is no sense of outrage or surprise. That’s the way things are in Brexit Britain, where reasonableness is vanity and actual vanity is reasonable.