Monday, 8 April 2013

Tramping the dirt down: why we should never be like Galloway


“Tramp the dirt down” might have been a fitting phrase for a Liverpudlian musician to use about a prime minister in 1989. It is not for a Member of Parliament a quarter-century later

I grew up in the 1980s. I understand why people despised Margaret Thatcher, because I did too. I was an angry teenager.

I despised the way she perpetuated the simple snobbery of those who came from a privileged background for a few more years before the class system finally started to disintegrate under Labour. The divisiveness of her policies. I understood, especially, why the people of Liverpool came to hate her so much, even before the Hillsborough disaster, that they brought to power the despicable Liverpool City Council of Derek Hatton, immortalised in the speech of Neil Kinnock’s life:

“I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council - hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers".
And so, I understood what drove Elvis Costello to write his clever and articulate but hate-filled rant, “Tramp The Dirt Down”. Many people today probably didn't recognise the reference, but I did.
Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live
Long enough to savour
That's when they finally put you in the ground
Ill stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down
I love Costello for many historical reasons, but I can’t empathise any more, I’m afraid. I just don’t hate people. Hate is a destructive, negative emotion that never does anyone any good. Sorry.

It’s not so much that my politics have changed, although they have. It’s more that I realise that my political opponents are just that, not sinister evildoers. While at times unashamedly tribal, I have made friends with Tories and Lib Dems as well as the vast majority who are still Labourites. I challenge myself to see things from their viewpoint so I can argue my own.

I still do not think Margaret Thatcher was the great Prime Minister her own party does, self-evidently. She was divisive and dogmatic, and went too far in many of her reforms. But I can admire her guts and determination. And I do not believe that any of us on the left have the right to disrespect her on her death. Do as you would be done by.

“Tramp The Dirt Down” was the phrase used today by George Galloway, friend to dictators and despots, the man who said the end of the murderous, repressive Soviet Union was “the saddest day of his life”. The use of the title of Costello’s song signified a wish to dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave (knowing his penchant for self-promotion I would not be at all surprised to find, one day, a YouTube video featuring the man himself doing just that). It is the language, needless to say, of hate.

I do not want us, the Labour Party, to be like him, for three reasons.

The first is common decency. How would we feel if the Tories did that with Kinnock?

The second is because we aspire to lead the country: at the moment, we have enough difficulties making ourselves look statesmanlike without indulging in shabby behaviour in a time of someone else’s mourning.

And the third is to remember that she won three general election victories. We lost three. No ifs, no buts. The British public made their choice for her, not us. Even if we didn't like her, a lot of Britons did, and a lot still do. Them. The people we aspire to lead.

Those chanting infantile obscenities today, and who are still expecting to return a Labour government, would be wise to reflect on that.

5 comments:

  1. I agree totally. So many on the left (as I consider myself to be) only remember the depth of their own antipathy towards her Government. They overlook the fact that it was matched by many who thought she was wonderful - and even many who did not, but still admired her perseverance in getting things done, after many years of short term strife turmoil and indecision.

    She was clearly very anti-union - but her reforms actually strengthened many aspects of them. An end to closed shops and an end to strikes called without ballots - democratic rather than at the whim of an unaccountable executive. That Barbara Castle had tried in vain to achieve many of the same ends seems similarly to be lost on the winds of time.

    Much of her success as well owes as much to the disorganised nature of the opposition. Derek Hatton was classically awful - yet Michael Foots intellectual idealism was an equally blunt instrument. For Arthur Scargill's part, the refusal to hold a strike ballot (when victory would have been assured) within a closed shop system, ensured that she held the moral high ground - casting the NUM as anti-democratic - and anti-Government.

    Strangely I was discussing Tramp Down the Dirt only last week - my friend and I agreed we would not be playing it, when the old girl bit the dust. We didn't, yet our Facebook time lines are full of it - have we learned nothing ? Nothing much I guess.

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  2. Indeed. I have never quite forgiven Jim Callaghan for his part in scuppering In Place Of Strife. It contributed in large part to 1979, and a much harder landing for the unions in the end.

    Yes, don't think we've learned much. I felt Kinnock's tribute was a bit tight-lipped, I'm afraid - you could smell the bitterness, and that's not pretty.

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  3. Surprised the hasn't been any articles on labour-uncut , I thought kinnocks speech was the most statesman of them all, no comments from Scargill or Hatton though, ken obviously had his comment per scripted, but then he always has, I wonder if Kens backing John Biggs for Tower hamlets major, and if not ,what will labour list say?

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  4. Surprised the hasn't been any articles on labour-uncut , I thought kinnocks speech was the most statesman of them all, no comments from Scargill or Hatton though, ken obviously had his comment per scripted, but then he always has, I wonder if Kens backing John Biggs for Tower hamlets major, and if not ,what will labour list say?

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  5. I find it very difficult to believe the idea that Livingstone will back John Biggs. However, as a member of the NEC he should clearly be thrown off it if he were to back a third party candidate.

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