Sunday 13 January 2019

Austin Mitchell on Prime Ministers

Austin Mitchell was a veteran and much liked Labour backbench MP until he left politics in 2015. He always opposed membership of the EEC/EC/EU. These passages are from his memoirs.

Being top dog is debilitating. It drains prime ministers, destroys the gloss and leaves them running on empty.
Labour’s Harold Wilson, the only one who recognised this, confessed that, towards the end, only brandy made the job bearable.
As for Margaret Thatcher, though I opposed almost everything she stood for, she got top marks from me for her cynicism about the Common Market.

She even read my letters telling her how to run the country and wrote back graciously explaining to me how wrong I was. No other prime minister ever did that.
....Tony was a great actor, with a barrister’s ability to present any case and an eloquence that turned promises into aspirations rather than commitments. He shone in his own personal spotlight, which was permanently directed to pick him out.
The art of political oratory is to say nothing passionately. Tony had it. Everyone came away believing he was on their side, though all they’d really had was a sprinkle of stardust and a warm smile. I called him Britain’s Great Leader, the Kim Il-sung of Downing Street.
His self-deprecating humour concealed his self-love. As he modestly proclaims, Tony won power for the party. His problem was that he had no firm idea of what to do with it beyond ‘modernisation’. He took the party on a journey but had little idea of the destination or the route, though he knew he wasn’t going to drive on the left.
...He talked of hard choices but never made any, concealing his vacuity by clutching at every fashionable system of thought that came along, from stakeholder capitalism, to communitarianism, to triangulation, to the Third Way.
He was a limpet in search of a rock, but he never looked for it on the Left, failed to find it in the Labour Party and ended up with Catholicism and U.S. president George Bush’s crusade to make the world fit for democracy. Sadly, the Iraq War that this led to was based on lies and the settlement was bungled, forcing him to spend the rest of his life justifying the unjustifiable. He used Parliament as an opportunity to show off.


  1. My long-held and passionate attitude to the European Union is summed up in four words — three of which are ‘the European Union’, preceded by a commonly used four- letter verb of exhortation that the Oxford English Dictionary describes as ‘vulgar’.

    Austin Mitchell

    1. Yes I saw that - we let down Antipodeans like him. What a tragedy that we joined the EEC - though it seemed a good idea at the time. Enoch Powell warned us as did many on the left.

  2. from my 'Words, Phrases, and Insults' file:

    'hereditary meritocracy'
    Robin Aitken

    far-right (meaning: not-left)

    willful misunderstanding

    ‘Tory anarchist’
    Orwell called himself

    You would be wanting a third referendum when you lose the second?

    conscientious gentleman

    undercurrent of bias

    coffin-faced bore

    Fuck the People, of course: they’ll get over it.

    Lord Fondlebum of Boy

    Orange Jesus

    ‘content farmer’

    pernicious fallacy

    ...echo chamber of delusion.

    ...austere luxury

    ...diligent Indolence