In this really quite good short film, Austin Mitchell announces he’s leaving Parliament next year (he used to work in broadcasting and it shows). He’s a very decent man who’s done some stirling work in his time, not least in defence of council housing over the years when it was simply taboo in the Labour Party, and he deserves some of the credit for raising its priority so high in the party today.
His efforts for the fisherfolk in his Great Grimsby constituency have included changing his name to Haddock. And no doubt he has done well for all who live on the Lincolnshire coast south of the Humber, that isolated red spot in a sea of blue.
For some years, he has been a member of the Campaign Group, a frequent rebel on the left of the party in many respects. He is also, to my mind, a decent and friendly fellow and no doubt has always been so. But he has not always been on the left, and on this occasion I think it worth repeating some of what I have previously written about his past.
He started out as a Gaitskellite (which is not the offence by the way) though also a committed eurosceptic throughout — which is of course entirely compatible with being a Gaitskellite. And he once wrote one of the nastiest, most bitter and sectarian books about the Labour Left that I have read.
Four Years in the Death of the Labour Party, it is a paranoid conspiracy theory about Labour between 1979 and 1983 whose inaccuracy is not helped by its colourful language. In addition to Orwell’s “every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist“, Mitchell enjoins to the conspiring dramatis personae “Marxist, Trotskyist, Buddhist, Trotskyoid and Marxoid,” Green movements and green politics.
And its leader, its “eminence, increasingly grise” is Tony Benn, a philosopher “without the stigmata of the intellectual“, guilty of multiple changes of mind, from revisionist Gaitskellite through advocate of the “PR politics of Kennedyism” and “guru of technology” to “unconsumated Marxist” and a venerator of the working-class as only the upper-classes can be.
It is an inaccurate and unilluminating rant that lasts almost 200 pages. And do not be mistaken into thinking that it is its politics which turned me off . I can recommend other histories of the period by right-wing protagonists John Golding or Diane Hayter as reasonably accurate accounts albeit from a different standpoint from my own.Even at 1p on Amazon (not that you should buy anything there), Austin’s book is not, I’m afraid, worth £2.80 p&p.
But heh, people change. We grow to see the better side. We can forgive. I no longer harbour any resentment against Austin for that book. Nor for any other of his occasional aberrations.