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So long, Austin Mitchell, it’s been good to know you (most of the time)

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 principled 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.




  1. John reid says:

    I thought he was a bit silly to be honest, I recall him saying that it was the SDP’s fault that former labour supporters weren’t voting labour anymore and were voting SDP, surely it should have occurred to him, that it’s up to the electorate who they vote for and if former labour voters couldn’t bring themselves to support us because what we stood for now, and did vote SDP, it was either a case of still standing what we stood for and accepting that those now voting SDP couldn’t bring themselves to support us, or, change what we stood for,

  2. swatantra says:

    They should really introduce an age rule of 71.
    Let him enjoy his retirement whats left of it.

  3. James Martin says:

    He was always a bit too fond of the media spotlight, regularly appearing (or so it seemed) on things like Kilroy. However, the mention of council housing is important. For years the Party stupidly turned its back on social housing, accepting a Thatcherite approach and local Labour councils fell over themselves setting up ALMO’s to part privatise public housing stock, and then watch as completely unaccountable housing associations with vast property empires and well paid senior executives did the rest.

    Mitchell recognised this for the disaster it was (and is – the effects are still a large part of the lack of affordable housing crisis across the country) and put his weight behind the tenant activists brought together by Defend Council Housing. In part the campaign worked and some of the worst housing privatising excesses of the Party have be reigned in and a recognition is at least there that affordable rented accommodation under democratic local control is not the evil that Thatcher succeeded in having it painted. And for that, and probably for that alone, Mitchell does deserve a lot of praise.

  4. Chris says:

    Why shouldn’t I buy stuff on Amazon? Am I supposed to spend my hard-earned cash on the same product for three times the price at a more “ethical” vendor? I guess that’s OK for the rich…

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