Derek Simpson’s inopportune squawking last week to the Daily Mirror that Labour under Gordon Brown resembled the deceased Monty Python parrot was hastily resuscitated by Unite’s spin artistes to read ‘Unite’s joint general secretary wishes to clarify that Gordon Brown has his full support and that Mr Brown is the only choice for leading the party to the next election.’ Poor Derek didn’t even get a name check – just ‘joint general secretary’, that’s him put in his place then. Remember who pulls your strings Derek!
Or perhaps not, for there he was again yesterday, as the Westminster village was awash with rumours that the Prime Minister was severely depressed, telling the world, or at least that rarefied sector of the world that reads the Independent, that Gordon is ‘very often shuffling and hesitant and […] not always the best communicator’ – a curious choice of words when asked to endorse Brown’s leadership and particularly unfortunate as the media scrutinise every word for signs of anti-depressant use. Perhaps the parrot is merely chemically coshed.
Is it really the authentic voice of Simpson that we are hearing, or is he merely parroting (couldn’t resist, apologies) the thoughts of Charlie Whelan, Brown’s notorious former spin-doctor, now political director of Simpson’s union UNITE? Whelan has fought a cold war with Mandelson for many years, and if Brown is declining in health, Mandelson is poised to seize effective control of the country so long as he can keep Brown’s feet nailed to the perch.
Next month’s Labour party conference will see an election for a new single general secretary of UNITE (no more ‘joint general secretary’ put downs in future!) and the in fighting in the run up to the election has been a set piece in Zanu Nu-labour tactics, with stewards refusing entry to long-standing members whose face did not appear to fit. Jerry Hicks, a potential left-wing candidate walked out of the meeting twice, citing the exclusion of some of his supporters and interference in their ability to vote for him. It all sounds reminiscent of political meetings in Zimbabwe.
All of which makes the forthcoming battle for control of the Labour parliamentary party marginally less than its normal ‘terminally boring’. Barry Sheerman is considering standing, if he is ‘assured of support’ – code speak for not ending up with egg all over his face again. Sheerman said in the summer that he was not sure that ‘Brown was the right man to lead the party into the next election’ which endeared him to that merry band of cowardly plotters who dare not speak their name – labour MPs who want rid of Brown. The election, timed to take place in the early days of the next parliament does not require these shy retiring souls to be identified. They might want Brown out for the good of the party, but they don’t want to find themselves in Peter Mandelson’s cross hairs if it all fizzles out like a damp squib.
On Friday, Simpson was back at Chequers for lunch with Brown and a steely collection of union bosses. The Sun tells us that he declined Britains’ national dish of Chicken Balti, citing a vegetarian diet, and settled for a meat-free lasagne. Oh dear, does anybody know what a new found vegetarian diet is a contra-indicated for? The medication for Paranoia, Schizophrenia? Surely we must be being told of his diet for a reason?
As we watch the death throws of the Labour party being fought out by proxy soldiers, we ordinary members of the public must pick up our clues where we can. If anybody spots Peter Mandelson out dining, please take a note of what he was eating – especially if it turns out to be the parrot’s sunflower seeds.