Posts Tagged ‘Michael Meacher’

A tale of two very different Guardian interviews: Darling and Burnham

13/08/2013, 10:54:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Decca Aitkenhead reported this weekend on Andy Burnham telling her that Labour must shout louder or risk election defeat. Some twitter reaction suggests that this would help Labour on the doorstep. As with Chris Bryant’s Monday morning Today appearance, we might wonder, however, whether it is content more than volume that is causing Labour to fail the Daz doorstep challenge.

Almost exactly five years ago, Aitkenhead interviewed Alistair Darling. Maybe there is something about the summer heat that causes Labour politicians to unbutton themselves around her. “Now Alistair,” Aitkenhead records his political advisor imploring when they sat down for the interview, “tell her everything. Make sure you tell her everything.”

This instruction implies, unsurprisingly, prior calculation. And for all the conviction that Burnham was eager to display to Aitkenhead – for the NHS and for comprehensive schools, in particular – we should probably also assume, as is the way of serious politics, calculation on the part of Burnham. We might, therefore, wonder what the calculations of Burnham and Darling were intended to accomplish.

“No one had any idea,” Darling replied when asked whether anyone had anticipated the scale of the financial crisis that was still unfolding at the time of his interview. He warned that the economic climate of 2008 was “arguably the worst … in 60 years. And I think it’s going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought.”

This remains the weakest economy on record and, as Mark Carney noted last week in his first press conference in charge of the Bank of England, those records go back more than one hundred years.

This speaks amply of Darling’s prescience. We might wonder whether so many would now blame Labour for the state of the economy if we’d done a better job in 2008 of getting across what Darling’s interview sought to communicate: we’re being hit by a unprecedented, global shock, which we must travel a long, hard road to recover from.

Darling was doing what Labour does at our best: being honest with the country about the scale of the challenges that confront us and providing leadership to meet them. He was, however, rewarded with “the forces of hell” from Gordon Brown’s operation next door. Presumably, they either didn’t accept that things were as bleak as Darling contended (but Carney’s assessment bears out Darling’s judgment) or reasoned that to acknowledge as much would reflect badly on Labour (but while reality can’t be denied, as Bryant discovered, it can be explained, and better in terms of the inefficiencies of global capitalism than the Labour government).


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