The Labour Party is dead; long live the Labour Party.
But in what form? What will it stand for? “In my day,” said a character in my late husband Jack Rosenthal’s 1976 teleplay Bar Mitzvah Boy, “they gave you your Labour Party badge the minute you were circumcised. Gave you with one hand, took away with the other.”
Back then, how could you be northern, Jewish, working-class — and not be a socialist? In the mid-Eighties, my uncle, Louis Pearlman, was the Labour Lord Mayor of Hull. Once, in the tiny toilet of a Hull-bound train, I transformed myself into an immaculately dressed and bewigged Margaret Thatcher, just so I could see his face fill with fear at Paragon Station. I marched against the Industrial Relations Bill with a six-foot placard; I stood on a hustings with Mr Kinnock and posed at Downing Street with the rest of the Labour luvvies. My voting history is rosy red.
True, I helped to fatally satirise Ed Miliband with my contributions to this magazine, but I thought I was only amusing myself and my readers. I never suspected it would “go viral”. When my children informed me, I didn’t even know what that expression meant. (Virol was a malty substance my mother spooned daily into my underweight body, which probably accounts for my being a size 14 today.) My socialist friends disowned me, however, as though I’d felled Ed singlehandedly in a sort of Olympian Jewdo throw.
Now I suppose I’m on the hated “unreconstituted Blairite” list. Fair do’s, Blair did win us the election three times. In his first year of office, he countered foot-and-mouth disease, BSE, severe flooding and the death of Princess Diana with grace and gravitas. He and Mo Mowlam brought about the unthinkable — peace between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. And yes, along with some of us and most of Parliament, he believed that a world without Saddam Hussein would be a better one. Sorry about that. We didn’t understand that Shia versus Sunni was a hundred times more unthinkable.
Uncertainty has become the only certainty. Great Britain is Brexiting and how great can we ever be again? Acts of terror and global suffering punctuate the headlines, and a Day-Glo psychotic may soon have his pinky on the big red button. We’re reminded by the mindful that we must live in the Now, but the Now is happening too fast for my mind. And the future frighteningly recalls the past.
So what new kind of displacement activity was going on as I found myself, on holiday in Anglesey, in front of the telly, in the capable hands of Clare Balding? At the time of writing, GB were second in the Olympic medal table. After the US and before China. It can’t just be that we threw some money at our usual lacklustre performance. It has to be alchemy.
What is true is that, instead of watching Corbyn drip-feed my party into a quagmire, I chose to watch gorgeous creatures triple-somersault off a high board into unnaturally green water. While Corbyn himself, divorced from his former cabinet ministers, supported by the sinister John McDonnell and the schoolgirl debater Diane Abbott, remained firmly clinging on to his new cut-price membership — thanks for that one, Ed — I punched the air when a chunky Brit threw a hammer into the air for 70 metres and a horse crossed its legs daintily and salsa’d across a sandy ring.
In Olympic terms, Corbyn is the “Eddie the Eagle” of Team GB. Except I rather liked Eddie. I stopped believing Corbyn was decent when a Momentum bully accosted MP Ruth Smeeth at the press call for the Shami Chakrabarti report on anti-Semitism.
A decent man would have stood up and said: “That, mate, is precisely the kind of behaviour I want out of the Labour Party. Leave the room; leave the party.” On the contrary, Corbyn was seen later sharing a joke with the man. A “kinder, gentler” politics does not seem to me to include elevating the author of that blind report to the House of Lords. Rather it is the same sort of provocative mischief which Harold Wilson employed over the then Marcia Williams.
I can’t take it. So I sit and watch Ms Balding simultaneously hold 2,000 facts about 2,000 sports in her head instead. I am no sports fiend. I married into Manchester United and watched Jack growing grimmer about his team match by match, until finally he could only bear to watch them on Teletext. But since the glory that was London 2012 I’ve been hooked on the politics of sport as opposed to vice versa. Both disciplines, of course, require years of grinding preparation for one four-year selection/election. Then what? What do you do with your muscles, your motivation and your life afterwards?
David Cameron’s tragi-comic, post-resignation walk back into Number 10, humming a little cheer-up song (as he probably did when he didn’t make the cricket eleven at Eton) really moved me. I found him oddly honourable in a fairly nobility-free zone. Chris Hoy or Steve Redgrave-like, perhaps now he could train others in sportsmanship?
William Hague, that most ambitious of men, the Olga Korbut of politicians, after one meeting with dream coach Angelina Jolie has vanished from the House he dreamed of owning, apparently to do good works in the third world. He might rank as an Eric Liddell figure, off to China to take a missionary position for the rest of his life.
Gove and Boris, with their excellence at back-stabbing, might show form at archery and javelin, while George Osborne is only fit for the high jump. Farage will be happy vaulting Poles and I quite fancy a velodrome line-up of Michael Portillo, Alan Johnson, Vince Cable and Nick Clegg, cycling endlessly in circles giving TV interviews to anyone who’ll listen about how they feel now it’s all over. The Olympics made me foolishly proud and emotional even though I knew the whole thing was (gluten-free) bread and (toothless) circuses. I watched it and choked up a bit as our anthem thudded out thinly on maracas and pan pipes. Meanwhile, back in the political arena, I shed saltier and sadder tears. As Lesley Gore sang: “It’s my Party and I’ll cry if I want to.”