Monday, 18 May 2009

The sad decline of the working class hero

"The most conservative man in the world is the British Trade Unionist when you want to change him".

That certainly rings true in the case of Speaker Michael Martin. Quite literally he wants changing; but he won't allow it (yet).

Certain of his more tribally-minded colleagues and, it is reported, some Labour whips are defending his intransigence on the grounds that he's a working-class man. Having risen from the backstreets of the roughest part of Glasgow to the eminence of highest commoner in the land he has achieved something praise-worthy. But why should being a working-class trade unionist provide an excuse for being an incoherent incompetent when operating at the highest levels of politics?

The author of the quotation above would most certainly have argued it shouldn't, and no doubt in blunt Anglo-Saxon terms. Ernest Bevin was perhaps the ultimate trade unionist, founding what became the largest union in the country: the Transport and General Workers Union. He was also an outstanding Minister for Labour during the Second World War and a canny Foreign Secretary afterwards. He ended his Cabinet career as Lord Privy Seal, quipping that this was despite his not being a Lord, a Privy, or a Seal. He had his share of people poking fun at his sometimes unschooled (literally) manners and speech. But in terms of sheer ability to get a job done he was one of the most outstanding politicians of the twentieth century.

It's sad and pathetic that Labour MPs and their whips have wheeled out this tribal and patronising defence of Martin. It sheds a melancholy light on the threadbare and moth-eaten state of what remains of the British trade unionist tradition.


Gadjo Dilo said...

Nice analysis. One of our number, a Mr Kevin Musgrove by name, recently suggested (if I remember correctly) that "What Would Clement Atlee Have Done?" bumper stickers on cars might promote better behaviour in our populace and thence its politicians.

Gaw said...

I wonder what sort of name recognition he'd get. Perhaps he'd be mistaken for a Fast Show character?

Kevin Musgrove said...

An excellent analysis.

Clement Attlee would have said: "Not up to the job," and have done with it.

I wonder if there's a Clement Attlee group on Facebook...