Retired and extremely dangerous

by Tom Watson

I WENT to see RED at the cinema the other night. It wasn’t, on this occasion, a fly on the wall documentary about our new leader, though it is only a matter of time before that satire is penned.

It was a rather impressive Hollywood action movie with a comic theme: old people can do stuff that we expect young good-looking heroes to be doing. So Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman beat the bad guys in the CIA to uncover the plot. RED turns out to be a comedy acronym for “retired and extremely dangerous”.

The film gave me comfort. Being a gnarled up, 43 year old twice-ex-minister takes some getting used to, after all. It is hard for the likes of Tom Harris and me to come to terms with having a leader who is younger than us.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the impressive young pups who rightfully received their promotions in the great leader’s first reshuffle. But they must beware: there are green eyes everywhere, and not just swiveling in the sockets of ginger rodents.

Take potential future leader, Chuka Umunna, for example. Intelligent, dynamic, articulate. Clean shaven, he’s perhaps the most beautiful man who has ever sat on the green benches. He’s perfect. He’ll have his own statue with a brass plaque one day.

You see my point? If I am jealous of young Chuka for his six pack, natural athleticism and exquisite taste in clothing and skin products, imagine what must be going through the heads of the people who actually want his job? Jealousy is the most corrosive political vice.

And the plain truth for us veterans of the Labour benches is that British politics is no longer showbiz for ugly people. We have genuinely attractive-in-every-way superstars in the PLP now. They’re going to make a difference.

Green eyes or not, young Chuka will do all right. Why? Because he listens to wise heads. And look a little deeper at Ed Miliband’s reshuffle and there are some seriously wise operators in his team. Take the whips office. There is the indefatigable Tony Cunningham, who would lead his troops into battle morning, noon and night if he could. There is the very able and experienced Alan Campbell, who knows the Parliamentary party inside out. And chief whip, Rosie Winterton, was smart to bolster her operation with the likes of Dave Anderson and Davey Hamilton. These gentlemen know how the world works.

Look around at other areas. Rarely does a meeting of the national executive committee end without Dennis Skinner drawing on half a century’s experience to allow the party better-informed decisions.

And look at the Tories. Their strongest asset is their confidence and young team.

Yet their strengths are also their weaknesses. There is a blurred line between confidence and hubris. And this government has crossed it many times already. They thought they’d ride the storm on child benefit cuts because they arrogantly assumed people would agree that they were tough but fair.

Wiser heads did not counsel Osborne and Co to attend to the detail. A family on a dual income of £80k+ contintuing to receive the benefit while poorer households lose out is not fair. It was an unforced error that added to a sense of incompetence, poor judgement and making it up as they go along.

Even Iain Duncan Smith, for whom I have more time than for most Conservative cabinet ministers, made a gaffe with his “get on a bus and look for work” comments. It only took the facts to blow a hole in his Tebbit-esque rationale. The facts being that there are more people unemployed in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil than jobs available in the whole of Wales.

Back on May 14th, Downing Street proudly proclaimed that ministers were all in this together with the rest of us. To show solidarity with the nation the PM announced “urgent action” – ministers would have their pay cut by 5%. Only it hasn’t happened. I’m reliably told that six months down the line, ministers have not had their pay docked. So far, not a single news outlet has checked whether the the grand claims of May have been enacted. We live in hope that one day, an enterprising lobby journalist will write the story. And then there will be a campaign to make ministers pay back their overpayments – a quarter of a million quid and rising every day.

This is overconfidence. It is the widest chink in the government’s armour. That toxic mix of over-confidence and inexperience is going to undermine this coalition. As well as David Laws, other ministers will resign and it will be hubris that brings about their demise.

There will be more unenforced errors. And we will exploit them. And one day Cameron will look tired. And he will look old. And Chuka and the next generation will triumph. And those who are retired and extremely dangerous will rejoice.

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply