Last week, I sent a letter to Ed Miliband, explaining my anger at his decision to pose with The Sun newspaper. As you can well imagine, I didn’t have high hopes of a personal reply. I know how these things work. I don’t have illusions of grandeur. I know I’m not really having a dialogue with Ed. I once wrote to Tony Benn and got a typed letter in reply. I wrote back and received a two page written letter in the post a few days later. But that was then, this is now. And that was Tony – he felt a responsibility to the movement to inspire young (and probably pretentious) socialists in the party. Ed isn’t and doesn’t. True to form, he got a member of his office staff (A) to write a bland and insincere apology which seemed to imply that the only reason that I’d be offended by his actions would be if I came from Merseyside:
Thank you for your email to Ed Miliband. My apologies for the delay in replying.
Ed Miliband was promoting England’s bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so. But he understands the anger that is felt towards The Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended.
Thank you again for taking the time ot get in touch.
Office of Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP”
The thrust of this reply, such as it is, is to treat Hillsborough as if it was a natural disaster – an earthquake or a flood – and that it’s the insensitivity of it all that upsets people. So that’s how the apology was framed – without real feeling, without an understanding of the real issues and absolutely statesmanlike – a real politician’s response. That’s all part of the process, of course. They teach you that at the school of the political elite (otherwise known as PPE at Oxford).
If I’m honest, I didn’t really want there to be a round two. I just wanted Ed to sleep on it, really think about what it was that members of his own party were so upset about and issue a decent apology to all, ending with a pledge never to do it again. I wanted Ed to address those people in his own party (those who he should have an affinity with and an understanding of) as a human – not as a statesman or a slick politician, just a fellow member of the party. The fact that he didn’t doesn’t surprise me – it’s the same pattern which has resulted in the debacle around Falkirk, the abstention on Workfare and the more recent support for a Welfare Cap. If One National Labour was a stick of rock, it would have “machine politics” running right through it, despite its rebranding “post-New Labour”.
Nevertheless, I decided to reply to A. Maybe he’d understand:
Thanks for your letter. I don’t know when you’re next going to see Ed, but when you do, can you please relay the following information. Whilst I’m very grateful for the response, there are a few things that confuse me. There seems to be an assumption that I am from Merseyside. I’m not. As I stated in my letter, I am from Durham. Ed’s apology seems to be directed towards those directly affected by the Hillsborough tragedy on Merseyside. I don’t doubt that if you are from that part of the world, the sight of your party leader holding up a copy of that paper (which accused Liverpool fans of stealing from the dead amongst other things) is going to have a little extra resonance.
Let’s recall that front page, as it seems to have fallen off the radar last Tuesday:
Some fans picked pockets of victims.
Some fans urinated on the brave cops
Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.”
Yes, if you have any connection with Liverpool FC, it will feel like an extra kick in the guts. The fact that Ed, as party leader, didn’t have the relatives of the 96 at the forefront of his mind when he held up that sorry excuse for a paper, will feel like an extra betrayal.
However, let’s not be confused. We have a longstanding tradition – an attitude you might say – in the labour movement. It’s called solidarity. An injury to one is an injury to all. Hillsborough is not just about Merseyside, it is an affront to all members of the labour movement, the Labour Party and all who believe in decency and justice throughout the UK. So to promote the Sun, for whatever reason, isn’t just an affront to Merseyside – it’s an insult to people right across our movement. Equally, any apology, if it’s heartfelt and genuine, should be directed to Labour supporters right across the movement. It’s not ok to promote the Sun – and not just because of Hillsborough, but also because of their reporting of the Miners’ Strike and branding the Miners “The Enemy Within” – culminating in Orgreave; because of the phone tapping scandal and Milly Dowler; because of the blatant sexism of Page Three; because of their consistent hatred for anything the Labour Party have done to alleviate poverty and champion equality. And, that, is very much just for starters.
The Sun, as you know, stands against everything the Labour movement stands for: solidarity, collectivism, redistribution, justice and equality. You don’t have to be one of its victims to feel a deep seated resentment towards The Sun and a tangible sense of betrayal in seeing the leader of your party casually promoting it as if none of this has entered his mind. It was a shameful moment, which should never be repeated. I hope Ed now understands this. We’ll probably never know – after all, we are just party members right? We’re here to stump up our fees, to cheer-lead, to deliver leaflets and to otherwise keep quiet. Why should we expect our leader to reflect our values, our causes and our principles? We’re only “meat in the room”. Ok, we can carry on with that charade – but one day in the not too distant future, that situation, that relationship, is going to blow up in our faces. And then, it will be too late.
Yours, with a lingering sense of disenchantment,
City of Durham CLP”