Secrets are sometimes necessary in politics. So is telling the truth but not the whole truth. What is never acceptable are lies. Especially from the leader of a party still in recovery from a predecessor who may have fatally wounded it by the tower of lies he built along the path which led to a million dead Iraqis and cascading extremism around the world.
Earlier this year the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband asked me to come and see him in his suite of offices overlooking the River Thames in the Norman Shaw Building in parliament. In fact he asked me again and again. When my diary proved uncomfortably crowded his office tried even harder to make it happen. “Ed is very keen to meet George” says one e-mail.
It’s not that I was avoiding him, in fact I was intrigued as to what this meeting – with no specified agenda – might be about.
In any case I would never refuse to meet any parliamentary colleague, still less the leader of the opposition. Such meetings, often private, are the stuff of politics at Westminster.
And when the leader of the opposition asking for the meeting is the leader of the party I joined when I was 13 years old, served in at every level for 36 years and loved a lot more than the leader Tony Blair who kicked me out of it ever did, it’s obvious I would fit him in. I’ve known many Labour leaders after all.
Harold Wilson, who won four general elections for the party was a friend of mine. I used to visit him, after his retirement in his rather gloomy flat behind Westminster Cathedral where he would demonstrate his tremendous powers of recall on matters ancient and no recall at all on what he’d said just five minutes before.
James Callaghan frequently invited me to tea in the House of Lords. He like me had never been to university, had come into the party through the trades unions, and was a real Labour man.
I regularly dined with Michael Foot in the Soho eaterie The Gay Hussar, discussed the Second World War over tea and crumpets in the Members Cafeteria of the Commons, sat beside him on the green benches, and of course we were fellow travellers over Iraq. When I was facing expulsion from the Labour Party, Michael Foot gave evidence on my behalf ( he having previously been expelled from the party himself).
Neil Kinnock – though we would become bitter enemies – many times offered me a spare room in his then Ealing house when I first moved to London in 1983 and entertained me in his South Wales home.
John Smith was a close friend of mine for many years until his death.
Gordon Brown – for whom Miliband was once an office boy – previously sat under my chairmanship of the Scottish Labour Party; when I was 26 years old.
The meeting with the current leader, which has become something of a brouhaha came out of the blue and entirely on his initiative. It was a one-on-one with no staff present – which surprised me slightly – and Miliband was gracious in the extreme. Apologising profusely for keeping me waiting slightly he actually helped me off with my coat and personally hung it up by the door. He gave me the best seat in the room and sat with his back to the river.
“The proximate cause of my request to meet you was to discuss the boundaries, but I note that we see eye to eye on that anyway, so thanks for that”. Those were the first words spoken in the meeting by him. The subject was not raised again throughout the remaining fifty-nine and a half minutes of the meeting.
More than one week before, and crucially, before he asked me for the meeting, the Labour Chief Whip had sent an emissary – my own usual channel – to ask how I would be voting on the new boundary proposals.
I had told that emissary that although the Tory sponsored boundary changes suited me in Bradford personally very well – they put me up against the hapless Lib-Dem MP David Ward with Labour nowhere in sight – I would be voting with Labour because I knew the overall changes were designed to help the Tories win the next election, something a good deal more important than my own electoral fortunes. Helpfully, hours later, I sent the emissary an e-mail expanding on my reasons for voting Labour on this!
Thus, Ed Miliband knew before he met me, before he EVEN ASKED to meet me, how I was going to vote on the Boundary Changes.
This is where, for some, it gets a great deal less interesting.
Mr Miliband did not raise with me any possibility of my rejoining Labour. Nor did he discuss any potential co-operation between us on any other matter, then, or in the future.
Neither of course did I, except to say, as we have said since our foundation in 2004, that no Respect MP would ever vote to put the Tories in power. Ever. We consider ourselves a part of the labour movement, indeed as the ghost of Labour’s past, saying the things Labour used to say, standing up for the people Labour used to represent. All this I said in fact from the victor’s rostrum a little over a year ago when I turned a solid Labour majority into a landslide victory for Respect in the Bradford West by-election.
So what did we discuss? We discussed politics. Local – Bradford and East London – national – the Bedroom Tax, the proper response to the Tory Austerity savagery – and international – Palestine, Iraq, the USA. That’s what parliamentarians do. And that’s all Ed Miliband had to say when – months later – the news of the meeting was leaked, presumably deliberately by someone in New Labour, to the Mail on Sunday. It would have had the benefit of being the truth.
Instead he chose to lie. The proximate cause of his lie is presumably rooted in the weakness of his position inside the Labour Party. The intention of the leakers was to administer a further kick at the man they’d never accepted as leader. For them his brother, the prince across the water David, is the true and rightful heir to Blair and the fact that the normal rules of primogeniture were so flagrantly transgressed in his defeat just makes it all much harder to bear.
First Blair himself then a train of camp followers, Peter Mandelson and Lord John Reid in the van, had been putting the boot in to Ed Miliband for the direction he’d been travelling in. Within the shadow cabinet, a pack of (frankly chihuahua-like) attack puppies seem to be constantly biting at the leaders ankles. The proximate cause of that is that Labour’s lead in the polls is vanishingly small given the mass unpopularity of the disastrous Con-Dem coalition government. The Blairite solution is for Labour to be even more like the Con-Dems – except where it’s possible to outflank them on the right!
All that is more Miliband’s business, than mine. His weakness in the ongoing inner-party struggle may well have been a good reason for him not to pursue me for a meeting. It’s not a reason to lie about it once news of the meeting he set up, leaks out.
The Mail on Sunday called me at breakfast in my Bradford constituency on Saturday 20th April. I refused to comment and immediately communicated news of the call to Miliband. I did not want to see him damaged. He had impressed me in the meeting. I want to see David Cameron out. That means Miliband as PM. I hate the Blairites – what’s not to hate?
If Miliband had played with a straight bat I would have never commented at all.
Instead in an act of unprincipled cowardice he immediately – on and off the record- began to authorise abusive attacks on me and my views. Even then, in last Tuesday’s Evening Standard I tried to exculpate him from the charge – which is in fact untrue – that he had tried to attract me back into Labour.
The last straw though came out of his own mouth, under pressure from slimy Nicky Campbell on Radio 5 Live on Thursday morning when he became both personally insulting as well as politically foolish.
He said I was an “awful man” with “awful views” that he wanted to see me defeated at the next election (although Labour has conspicuously NOT placed Bradford West on its target list of winnable seats – little wonder, my majority is more than 10,000 and 56% of the vote in an eight party race).
But if I am “awful” why did he pursue me so earnestly for a private meeting? Why did he say at the end of it “we must do this again…. but perhaps not here” (in his Westminster office)?
If my views are “awful” why have I been elected to parliament six times whilst holding fast to them? Why have I TWICE defeated New Labour, from their left, in rock solid Labour seats; because of my views, or despite them?
And why did his father, Ralph Miliband, hold to virtually identical views all of his long and illustrious life?
Unfortunately perhaps for Ed Miliband, there are many people who share my views, and for whom none of the big parties are speaking, for or to. And who appear to command so little respect from today’s New Labour Party. That, I believe whether he knew it or not, was the real proximate cause of Mr Miliband’s desire to meet me. Because I speak for them. Clearly and without fear and I intend to go on doing so.
That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me God.
[George Galloway MP]