Oh f+x&! Not Reid!
TONY Blair has not just been re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Following his government's series of self-laid banana skins finishing up with the Labour Party's pratfall in local council elections, he has made some frightening changes.
Jack Straw may have made an ignominous exhibition escorting US Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice on tour of his north-west constituency and on to Liverpool, dodging the anti-war demonstrators. He didn't do much for Britain's prestige by letting the Israelis get on with their Jericho operation. But he was not involved in the government's recent contretemps, so why has he been removed from the Foreign Office?
Some fear the answer is Straw's attempt to hold the line for British and EU foreign policy in favour of maintaining diplomatic methods to deal with Iran.
Straw had insisted he would not support unilateral US-British military action, and ruled out use of nuclear weapons. The pressure to remove him came not from British electors but from Bush. Margaret Beckett, whatever her survival diplomacy skills in the Labour leadership has little known background in international affairs, but maybe that is why she has been chosen, as a Foreign secretary who will do as she is told. With two god-botherers in Washington and Teheran itching for the Armageddon-button, be afraid, be very afraid.
Then there's John Reid, taking over as Home Secretary. When he heard about an earlier appointment he is said to have exclaimed "Oh fuck, not Health!" He opposed anti=smoking Iegislation, but had to give up his 60-a-day habit to suit the part.
Some other habits may be harder to quit. I had the experience of an encounter with Reid a few years ago. It was during the Brent East by-election, and I was calling on a friend in Kensal Rise one evening when a big black car pulled up in the street, and who should pop out accompanied by his broad-shouldered minders, but then Health Minister John Reid, doing his bit for Labour.
There had been an item in the news that night about a woman who had died unecessarily while waiting for treatment in a nearby hospital. My friend Alf, a former secretary of Brent East Labour Party, challenged Reid as to what he had to say about this. After some further words, the minister, apparently under the misapprehension that we were supporters of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, told us that we should "Tell Arthur Scargill to come and see the communities he has destroyed in my constituency!"
I'd heard criticism of Scargill before. I have a few myself. But I'd not previously heard anyone blame the former miners' leader for the destruction of Britain's coal mining industry and the working-class communities that had been dependent on it. Indeed, "Arthur Scargill was right!" was a sentiment I more often heard when the Tories ordered their closures plan, and when trades unionists in other industries realised that their jobs and established conditions were going next. I gaped at Reid, who repeated his jibe as he retreated to his ministerial car. "But that was Thatcher!" I protested. "....Oh I forgot! You have joined her!"
In his early days in politics, Reid was a member of the Communist Party, as Arthur Scargill had been in his youth. "I used to be a Communist", he has said, "I used to believe in Santa Claus". Very witty. Evidently he has retained the Stalinist ability to rewrite history to suit current policies, along with the loyalty and respect for Old Comrades.
Still, Reid and Scargill might have had more in common than either would admit in their subsequant careers. The miners' leader's deserved respect for class loyalty and facing up to press smears was sullied for some of us by his misguided support for Jaruzelski (who rewarded it by shipping scab coal to Britain); and his refusal to support Polish workers' rights, or meet Bosnian miners who were resisting ethnic cleansing.
It was during the Bosnian war that John Reid hastened to meet with Serb nationalist war criminal Radovan Karadzic. Reid spent three days at a luxury Geneva lakeside hotel in 1993 as a guest of Karadzic. Since the British Tory Foreign Office was maintaining ties with Milosevic's Serbia while affecting neutrality and keeping Bosnia from receiving arms, Reid's mission may not have hindered his career prospects. Labour discipline focussed on backbencher Bob Wareing.
When Reid made Defence Minister he distinguished himself by calling on the British public to appreciate the "unprecedented challenges" faced by British troops in Iraq and show more sympathy for them - this when soldiers were in the news for beating up and killing civilians. Sounds just the "hard man" some newspapers would like to see in the Home Office. The kind of newspapers which
want asylum seekers locked up and supported the right of police to shoot on sight on the underground.
It would be nice to be proved wrong, but we can't say we haven't been warned what to expect from this government.
Labels: Labour Party