Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Up, up, up! Let's support a Thatcher statue

“We are all Thatcherites now.” David Cameron was wrong. Many in the Conservative Party would balk at the idea of Cameron as Thatcher’s heir. But in the Labour Party, as modern social democrats, we must hold up her achievements as something to aspire to and, more importantly, recognise that they are part of the proud tradition of our movement.

It is fitting that the tributes to Baroness Thatcher that have flooded our news outlets over the past week have replaced the debate on welfare spending that raged the week before. In the 1980s her government spent huge amounts on welfare: social security spending was £25bn higher in real terms when she left office than when she entered in 1979. In nominal terms, she tripled it. These statistics put previous Labour governments to shame.

Indeed, we can go further. At its highest social security spending as a proportion of GDP was 12.4%, the same peak it reached under Tony Blair. When the Daily Mail screams that Mick Philpott was a “vile product of the welfare state”, it is her welfare state they speak of.
The NHS too, which we defend today with such vigour, never came under such attacks from dear Margaret Hilda – in 1987 alone she pumped an extra £101 million into our National Health Service. Her National Health Service.

Lady Thatcher was, of course, our only female prime minister to date. She may not have defined herself as a feminist and though many would be at pains to admit it, it is hard to dispute the facts: there are far more women working as MPs today than when she entered Number 10. In the Labour Party alone, the number of women MPs has risen eightfold: 85 if we hold South Shields. That’s her legacy. Thatcher’s own family clearly discarded outdated “traditional” gender roles – when asked who wears the trousers in their relationship, her husband Denis replied “I do; and I wash and iron them.”

Even her harshest critics admit she was a strong leader. Tony Benn once described her as “a signpost not a weather-vane” and true, if her son had inherited his mother’s innate sense of purpose and direction he would never have got lost in that desert.

Cameron said she had “lion-hearted love of her country”. Again, undeniable. The lions in Trafalgar Square, those paragons of great British bravery, pale in comparison to the courage of the Iron Lady’s convictions.

This is why Boris Johnson’s empty, career-driven calls for a statue of Thatcher in Trafalgar Square do not go far enough. The fourth plinth is simply inadequate. Let us pull down the Nelson effigy and replace it with one of the People’s Prime Minister, for his triumph in that Spanish Cape was nothing when one considers the dangers of communism in the 1980s. Had it not been for Margaret Thatcher, we’d all be speaking Russian. She fought the fascist junta in the Falklands, he sought to spread empire against a republic. Nelson can have the fourth plinth, if he must, while Maggie can stand atop the column, safe from the ire of braying Trots and the ardour of Mail editorials alike.

We may not agree with everything she did, but there is no perfect PM; those who claim Attlee as the greatest peacetime premier should recall that Bevan resigned from that particular Cabinet. This was a woman ousted by the Conservatives for her leftist record. It is time for us to claim her as our own.

Forget the death parties. Let’s walk down Whitehall and demand that erection. Fit it with a sensor so it plays ‘God Save The Queen’ every time someone walks past. The lady may not have been for turning but the tourists will. In fact, make u-turns a driving offence, in her honour. May the flags never flutter higher than half-mast. Stop the bells, forever. Make the floors of our fair country a permanent floral tribute. Rename the place too. She saved our country. Thatchfalgar Square. It’s only fitting.

Let her tower over British politics. She already does. All Thatcherites now? Some of us always were.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Labour, New Year, New Leader

It's that time of year I guess where people give their predictions for the year to come. My colleague Tom Harris (Mystic Tom?) has stared into the crystal ball and predicted that Labour can and will win a fourth term with a reduced majority.

He's right - we can win but in order to do so we need a change of leader. As Labour MP Barry Sheerman writes cogently in today's Indy, we have a leader who is disastrously more unpopular than our party. Labour has been appallingly ill-served by a cabal surrounding Gordon Brown. First they destabilised Tony Blair's leadership, an act of shocking disloyalty to someone who had won us an unprecedented three election victories in a row; then they ensured that Gordon was crowned leader rather than elected (along with others I spent some time in early 2007 seeing if we could get enough Labour MPs to nominate any serious contender to take on Gordon. We got just about the requisite number of names but we couldn't find a member of the cabinet who dared take on Gordon's people for fear of what they would do - is that the kind of leadership that we really want?); which leads us to the next dirty trick of Gordon's cabal: the smearing of opponents. As one Minister said at the time, the really shocking thing about the McBride fiasco wasn't that they were attempting to trash the personality of an opponent but that it was someone of a different party for a change. We deserve better.

The people that I represent need a Labour Government and I am desperate to see one returned in 2010. I've written before that we need a change of strategy but more than that we need a change of leader. The Tories are still, rightly, mistrusted by a large section of the electorate and the result of the next election is not a foregone conclusion. There is a sizeable section of the electorate which has not decided how to vote yet but they have, sad to say, decided not to vote for us if Gordon is still our leader come polling day. I realise that this may be an uncomfortable truth but it is a truth nonetheless, and one which every Labour MP knows from talking to constituents. I hold no brief to support any alternative leader and, in truth, almost any of the senior figures in our party would seriously narrow the gap with the Tories if they took over in January. Gordon loves the Labour party but the best thing that he could do now to help it stay in office would be to leave its leadership. If not, we look to the de facto Deputy Prime Minister to tell him the harsh truths. Carpe diem, Lord Mandelson.