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Labour: the party of celebs, archbishops and technocrats

The New Statesman’s ‘left power list’ is an unflattering selfie of Labour’s new elite.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Topics Politics UK

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The weekly New Statesman magazine has long been the house journal of the Labour Party. So when its staff and contributors compile their inaugural ‘left power list’ of the ‘50 most influential people shaping Britain’s progressive politics… within Labour and across the wider British left’, it should provide a reliable snapshot of how Labour sees itself now. Since the magazine introduces its power list by excitedly noting that Labour under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership is now ‘expected to return to government for the first time since 2010’, these are presumably also the powerful people it expects to run and shape the nation.

Remarkable, then, that the Labour ‘selfie’ produced by the New Statesman’s power list should be so unflattering. The picture that emerges is of a narrow, shallow, middle-class leftist elite, largely living in a different country from the people it aspires to rule over.

Much of the list is made up of faceless Labour Party technocrats – MPs and officials most of whom you might never have heard of, alongside the well-known-but-suspended Jeremy Corbyn – and a few trade-union bureaucrats. But the compilers have tried hard to liven up these stiffs by sprinkling the list with the contemporary stardust of celebrity, including everybody from TV presenters to footballers and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

‘We define power’, declares the intro, ‘as the ability to change policy or to change minds: to shape political opinion and debate.’ Their list suggests that the power struggle Labour envisages will be fought by a few think-tank wonks and podcasters rather than the old big battalions of the labour movement, with their chosen battleground resembling Twitter rather than the real world.

Here are just a few of the self-consciously ‘starry’ selections included in the left power list:

At the dizzying heights of No4, only just behind the top Labour leaders, sits Martin Lewis. He’s the popular ‘money-saving expert’ on the telly who advises worried punters about how they might shave a few quid off their gas or insurance bills. Apparently impressed by Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt saying that he had listened to Lewis when deciding not to raise the energy-price guarantee last year, the New Statesman now imagines ITV’s Martin as the man who could ‘cast the deciding vote’ on our economic future. The hope that a self-appointed, self-important celebrity expert will tell elected governments how to govern rather captures the elites’ undemocratic attitude to the exercise of power.

Directly below Lewis at No5 is the gurning face of Gary Lineker, former footballer turned presenter, podcast mogul and top wokesperson for the left-liberal Twitterati. The New Statesman hails Lineker as ‘a free-speech martyr and a rare voice supporting the cause of asylum seekers and refugees’, after he won his little power struggle with pathetic BBC bosses, over his right to compare Tory immigration policy to Nazi Germany on Twitter. If Labour truly believes that millions of the non-tweeting electorate agree with Lineker that the government’s impotent immigration policy is actually too harsh, they could be in for a surprise.

A little further down the power list at No23, as if stumbling across a rare beast in the rainforest, we find national treasure Sir David Attenborough. The New Statesman claims that ‘the nonagenarian has moved increasingly to the left as his career has progressed’. Which I suppose is one way of describing the fact that Attenborough’s BBC natural-history programmes have increasingly become shrill sermons about climate change and the evils of human development.

The magazine quotes Sir David criticising ‘the excesses [of] the capitalist system’ and declaring that ‘ordinary people worldwide are beginning to realise that greed does not actually lead to joy’ (translation: you lot will be happier with less stuff). It did not find room for his rather blunter description of humanity as a ‘plague on Earth’. That’s surely the way to win those ‘ordinary people’ to the left!

Wearing the unfamiliar No42 shirt is the footballer Marcus Rashford, praised for his campaigning on child poverty and free school dinners. The New Statesman describes Rashford as a ‘one-man opposition party’, which doesn’t say much for the Labour Party when you think about it. (It also ignores the role of a celebrity PR outfit in orchestrating the campaign he fronted.) Manchester United and England fans might note that Marcus’s form and popularity have increased markedly since he focussed on scoring goals rather than point-scoring on social media.

Other notable names on the left power list include proper pillars of the British establishment. Up at No7, it’s Sue Gray, the top civil-service official responsible for the Partygate inquiry that brought down Boris Johnson, who was then controversially recruited by Labour leader Starmer to be his chief of staff. Being an unaccountable Whitehall mandarin who can depose a prime minister elected by 14million voters is certainly a form of power. Whether it is one that should be celebrated as ‘progressive’ is another question entirely.

At No27 on the left power list, another establishment figure is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He was last seen of course displaying his radical credentials by crowning the hereditary monarch in Westminster Abbey. Nevertheless, the New Statesman praises Welby as ‘a bold critic of the central tenets of Tory policy’.

The notion of an archbishop allegedly ordained by God interfering in government policy from the benches of the anti-democratic House of Lords might once have been considered, well, heresy on the left. No longer. After all, it was the New Statesman which, during the parliamentary battle over Brexit, hailed the unelected, Remainer House of Lords as ‘the left’s new best friend’.

There are other revealing non-party appearances lower down the left power list, from LBC radio loudmouth James O’Brien to execrable Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam. One interesting exception to the general tenor is long-term Labour supporter JK Rowling, at No14. The New Statesman begrudgingly acknowledges that ‘Rowling’s high placing on our list reflects her influence over one of the most charged issues of our time: trans rights’, which can’t have gone down too well with many on the trans-obsessed left.

What of the Labour Party figures themselves? The shadow ministers, MPs and party officials listed here come across as a bland collection of largely invisible, middle-class apparatchiks, more in the image of Starmer the north London barrister than traditional northern Labour voters. Of course, even though the Labour Party was built on millions of working-class votes, its membership and leaders have often been dominated by the middle classes. But this current crew look like a particularly petit-bourgeois collection of technocrats and managers, with hardly a political principle between them.

For example, the coveted No1 slot on the left power list goes to Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, with Starmer himself demoted to runner-up. Reeves is praised by the New Statesman for her ‘deep trade-union links’. More importantly, however, she is bigged-up as a former Bank of England economist, whose wonkish skills have shaped two of Labour’s ‘defining missions’ under Starmer, while ‘winning the confidence of business and achieving fiscal credibility’ in the process. Power to the people!

In the background, meanwhile, lurk the ghost of Sir Tony Blair (No16) and the grisly spectre of Alastair Campbell (No40) – reminders of both how long it has been since Labour won a General Election (2005), and of how the baleful legacy of New Labour still shapes too much of our political life today.

For all its talk of ‘the power to change minds’, the list reveals how the leftish elites see power as something best exercised behind closed doors, away from the public gaze. Thus, for example, up at No10 we find Torsten Bell, the little-known chief executive of a think-tank called the Resolution Foundation.

The New Statesman claims that this committee man was largely responsible for formulating two major Tory government policies: the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Energy Price Guarantee. Expect to see (or rather, not to see) much more such unaccountable behind-closed-doors policymaking under any Labour government.

One last point. As a sign of how the new establishment is taking shape, the New Statesman also mentions in passing that Bell’s identical twin brother, Olaf, is ‘EU director at the Foreign Office’. Which brings us to a final thing that the ‘50 most influential people shaping Britain’s progressive politics’ have in common; they are all Remainers. We have been warned.

Mick Hume is a spiked columnist. The concise and abridged edition of his book, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?, is published by William Collins.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK

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