After watching the coverage, last night, of Labour MPs abandoning the working and non-working poor – not to mention pregnant rape victims – to the tender mercies of the Tories’ welfare ‘reforms’, I was reminded of a rather amusing tale I heard a while ago.
On the Friday after the general election I appeared on a TV debate alongside former Labour MP for Nottingham South, Alan Simpson. Joining us were one very smug Tory and an academic from Nottingham University.
Alan and I go back over twenty-years and for all my loathing for the party of which I was once a member – and represented as an elected councillor, if you can believe it – I’ve always had a very soft spot for Alan.
As well as being a sincere and hard-working MP, Alan was not afraid to get his hands dirty. He accompanied Notts anti-fascists on a variety of what we’ll call initiatives, back in the days when the far right were very visible and active along the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire border. He was a man unafraid of proclaiming his left credentials and I have no doubt, that had he still been in Parliament, he’d have been first into the NO lobby last night.
Indeed, should Andy Burnham ever be unfortunate enough to meet me, I rather fancy that I’d paraphrase Senator Bentsen’s deservedly-legendary put-down: I fought with Alan Simpson. I knew Alan Simpson. Alan Simpson was a friend of mine. Burnham, you’re no Alan Simpson.
So anyway; here’s the thing. Prior to the aforementioned TV debate, Alan and I enjoyed a bit of a catch-up. During which he shared with me the following anecdote concerning a local former Labour MP. The story was as follows…
Said MP knocks on a door while canvassing and asks for the resident’s vote. The man proceeds to grill the Labour candidate:
“Did you vote for the Tories education proposals?”
“Dear God, of course not! I’m a Labour MP. I abstained”
“OK. What about their trade union bill?”
“Dear me, sir, absolutely not! Trade unions are vital to a functioning democracy!”
“So you voted against?”
“Well, actually I abstained. There were very sound tactical reasons for doing so. Parliament and the legislative process can be very tricky, you know”
“Fair enough. And on the education bill?”
“An appalling piece of work! Attacking those charged with educating the next generation! Along with colleagues, I abstained.”
“OK, thanks for answering and taking the time to speak to me”
“My pleasure, sir. So can Labour rely on your support?”
“Marvellous. Thank you very much!”
“You’re welcome. Yes, I’ll definitely be abstaining on polling day”
“What? That’s no good! We need your vote!”
“Oh, I thought abstaining was an effective tactic, listening to you? And if it’s good enough for you people…”
No need to labour – ho ho ho – the point. You know what to do when Burnham and his 184 abstaining mates come calling for your vote…