Straw the Younger vs King Tony of Islington

Will Straw’s tantrums about Blair’s betrayal of his father confirm New Labour’s descent into mafia-style infighting.

Emily Hill

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Ever since the premature end of King Tony – stabbed to death not by an unruly populace but by his old pal the Thane of Kirkcaldy, Gordon ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ Brown – the Labour Party has been desperate to keep its rump on the throne. There have been many creeping courtiers trying to push Brown off in the hope that the electorate might think David Miliband looks as good holding a sceptre as he does brandishing a banana, but hope is now running low. The dynasty is looking exhausted.

With his eyes sticking out on stalks and FA Cup trophy ears, on a cursory glance Will Straw may look less like a future pretender to the crown and more like Mr Potatohead. But do not let this fool you. Straw, son of justice minister Jack Straw, is poised to pounce on an unwitting electorate – as soon as he thinks that the Labour Party might start winning again. Unlike most wannabe Labour candidates who haven’t even bothered to attempt to get selected to a constituency seat yet, Straw has been the subject of two glowing profiles in the national press this week in which he lambasted both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for their treatment of his dad before going on to make his own pitch for future government.

‘Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have been a huge disappointment and let down the Labour Party’, Straw the Younger told the Evening Standard. ‘I am especially deeply angry with Blair for being duplicitous about his reasons for taking us to war with Iraq, hiding behind WMDs when he was content to prosecute a war for regime change. And also [he takes a sharp intake of breath] for the unbelievably shoddy way he betrayed my father, demoting him from foreign secretary to leader of the House, especially after my dad had been so loyal.’

Will, who is described as ‘articulate and assured beyond his years’ (his interviewer perhaps taking a generous view of how many years a person needs to string a sentence together – Will is practically 30) is, of course, entitled to criticise whomever he wants. It’s a relatively free country. But for him to present his critique in the language of family bonds and paternal loyalty, betrayal and personal grievance, speaks volumes about Labour’s transformation from a proper political party into a backstabbing, dynastic outfit. In defending his loyal father from other more treacherous rulers, Straw Junior unwittingly reveals just how decadent and undemocratic, even mafia-like, late New Labour has become.

The further removed the Labour Party has become from public reality, as reflected in both its massively declining vote and its increasingly frenetic policy programmes, the more it has become embroiled in internal squabbling and a fairly grotesque style of internecine politicking. The fact that Will is given special media priority because he is a special critic of Labour – by pure virtue of whose son he is – only reflects the broader degeneration of Labour into pointless personality and familial camps, making them seem more like the Plantagenets than actual democrats.

Will Straw is best known for two things: once getting busted for selling pot to a journalist and running a blog. Both of these things would be totally unremarkable in anyone else. Most teenagers these days dabble in pot (although the newspapers wouldn’t attempt to bust them for it) and blogs are 10-a-penny. But whereas most blogs are start-ups, and those which gain a large following – like Guido Fawkes – do so through a dedication to dishing out gossip that a newspaper can’t or won’t publish, Straw’s Left Foot Forward blog was started on £60,000 accumulated from ‘philanthropic Labour sympathisers’ such as the EU’s new foreign minister, Baroness Ashton (herself a spectacularly undemocratic figure), her husband Peter Kellner, and Henry Tinsley, the former chairman of chocolate-maker Green & Blacks.

Straw’s brand of blogging, his pioneering engagement with the ‘Twitter generation’ (which, if it exists at all, most likely consists of a horde of 40-year-old wonks with little better to do), is not remotely radical or edgy, but it does reveal something about how aspiring politicians get into politics these days – not through meaningful public engagement, such as through trade unions or community work, but through the media, think-tanks, blogging. At least Straw senior went from local councilor to political adviser to Labour candidate and eventually to Cabinet. Straw junior hopes to ascend to the political court not by actually talking to normal people, far less winning their votes, but by tweeting with twits and exploiting the media’s interest in what he thinks about Blair, Brown and other betrayers of My Dad.

Will’s emergence as a kind of decadent, undemocratic, almost Shakespearean figure (without any of the profound insights into the human condition, of course), who wants to defend his dad and Labour values more broadly from Kings Blair and Brown, parallels the emergence of other Labour babies who are looking to go straight from cradle to government. Last year, John Prescott’s son David was defeated by a local candidate to succeed his father as court jester for Hull East. And Georgia Gould, daughter of Blair’s polling guru Lord Gould sought selection in Erith and Thamesmead. New Labour bigwigs Tessa Jowell, Alastair Campbell and Baroness McDonagh all turned out to help the 22-year-old, but unfortunately Georgia proved ‘about as popular locally as a cup of cold sick’ and failed in her bid to become candidate – much to the chagrin of Campbell. Alex Birtles, daughter of Patricia Hewitt, is rumoured to be another up-and-coming hotshot, as is Emily Benn, granddaughter of Tony and niece of environment secretary Hilary, who became Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham at the age of 17.

In this week’s interview, Will unveiled himself as a kind of loyal son, seeking to defend father Jack from the disloyalty of Blair and the ignorance of other big fearsome Labour people. All of this rather confirms the descent of Labour into Shakespearean intrigue, where court-style politics – family loyalty, backstabbing interviews, disillusionment with the king – have collectively taken the place of real, publicly-engaged debate about issues.

Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.

Previously on spiked

Tim Black thought Labour’s class war was really a schoolyard spat. Frank Furedi called the Crewe and Nantwich by-election farce war not class war. And Brendan O’Neill wondered where positive politics was. Neil Davenport asked what happened to the class struggle? He also wondered why there are so many wannabe workers. Dave Hallsworth reflected on leading a major strike in 1982.Or read more at spiked issues British politics.

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

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