Chris Mullin’s diary: Murdoch’s men couldn’t face even a fictional Corbyn victory

Plus: the pact that could save Labour; Vince Cable’s economic confession; and a sincere Tory for Corbyn

19 September 2015

8:00 AM

19 September 2015

8:00 AM

With four days to go until the result of Labour’s leadership election, a call from the Sunday Times. Would I like to write a piece, along the lines of the opening chapter of my 1980s novel A Very British Coup, about the first 100 days of a Corbyn government? Anything up to 3,000 words, he says. I am sceptical that the sense of humour of the censors at Murdoch HQ will stretch to the prospect of a Corbyn government, however fanciful. Especially since any such government is likely to be interested in breaking up the concentration of media ownership. What they are really looking for, I suspect, is tale of chaos, mayhem and a breakdown of the social order. Nevertheless he is bursting with enthusiasm. After nailing down terms I decide to give it a go. I tap out the first 700 words and send it over to check that we are on the same wavelength. The response is encouraging, ‘Thank you for a rip-roaring start to the Corbyn 2020 victory. It’s great fun and made me laugh.’ I duly knock out the remaining 2,000 words. Erring on the side of caution I avoid any reference to Murdoch, but I cannot resist including a Media Diversity Bill in the first Queen’s Speech and the appointment of Tom Watson as Culture Secretary and Vince Cable as director-general of Ofcom.

My piece is dispatched. No response. After 24 hours I email a request for an acknowledgement. Back comes a single word: ‘Thanks.’ Two more days pass. Then, on Saturday afternoon, comes the following: ‘I am afraid we are not going to be able to run your Corbyn landslide piece…sorry.’ Next day’s Sunday Times headline reads ‘Corbyn sparks Labour civil war.’ They are nothing if not predictable. All is not lost, however. On last Thursday came an email from my publisher saying there has been a spike in demand for A Very British Coup and he is ordering a reprint. And this Tuesday the Guardian put my ‘Corbyn’s first 100 days’ piece on the front of its G2 supplement.

Seriously, though, what are we to make of the Corbyn victory? To be sure it is a high-risk strategy, but I am not going to join those former colleagues touring the studios doing him down. He has won an overwhelming victory and deserves a chance to set out his stall. No politician can expect a long honeymoon in this age of digital mayhem, but I do think he is entitled to more than 24 hours. In that spirit I have a suggestion. If Labour is to regain seats in the home counties, it badly needs a Lib Dem revival. If I were Labour leader in these difficult times, I would be talking to the leaders of the Liberal Democrats (and the Greens) about an electoral pact not to compete against each other in seats where the runner-up has a chance of defeating the Tory incumbent. Tribalists on all sides would throw a wobbly, but there is a precedent. In 1906 the Liberal chief whip, Herbert Gladstone, reached just such an agreement with Ramsay MacDonald, then secretary of the Labour Representation Committee, which resulted in the election of the first 29 Labour MPs. The rest is history.

One of the great Tory propaganda successes of recent years, which Labour never managed to rebut, was the pretence that the financial meltdown in the autumn of 2008 was somehow almost uniquely British and mainly the fault of Labour profligacy. In five years of coalition government, scarcely a week passed without George Osborne or one of his acolytes parroting the same handful of mendacious slogans about ‘Gordon Brown’s debt’, ‘the mess that Labour left us’ or ‘the chaos we inherited’. Some Lib Dem ministers, notably Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, were at it too. The one member of the coalition who I never heard resort to such chicanery was Cable, who in the years before the meltdown, did more than any other politician to alert the public to the coming crisis. I was, therefore, interested to read on page 287 of Cable’s new book, After the Storm, published this week, the following: ‘It is not true that the Labour government grossly mismanaged the public finances in the run-up to the 2008 crisis. There was a small structural deficit, but the Conservative narrative of spendthrift incompetents is simply wrong.’ The main threat to the economic stability, he adds, is household rather than public-sector debt.

Contrary to what one might expect, Jeremy Corbyn has admirers in the higher reaches of the Conservative party. I recently received this email from a prominent Tory: ‘I don’t know why — it has nothing to do with my Conservative politics — but I feel a spring in my step at the prospect of Jeremy’s elevation. As a member of the Establishment, I like to see a little frisson disturbing the champagne and canapés… Authenticity matters in politics today — Boris, Sturgeon, Farage — so I raise my glass to Comrade Corbyn, and not because I am a Tory.’

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Chris Mullin was the MP for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • David S

    “One of the great Tory propaganda successes of recent years, which Labour
    never managed to rebut, was the pretence that the financial meltdown in
    the autumn of 2008 was somehow almost uniquely British and mainly the
    fault of Labour profligacy”

    This is a crude straw man that was trotted out by almost every Labour politician in the last election campaign, and most people saw it for what it was. Labour profligacy did not cause the meltdown, but it was certainly exposed by it. As Warren Buffett said, when the tide goes out you see who is bathing naked. Government spending was way in excess of revenues in the boom conditions of 2007, and precious little of it was going on infrastructure; instead waste and inefficiency were endemic and even encouraged. Spending was redefined as investment, and there was a belief that setting targets and throwing money at things was the solution to all problems.

    The fact that Cable predicted the crash does not mean that he got very much else right on public finance, and dropping his name is unlikely to impress the average Spectator reader any more than it did the voters of Twickenham.

    • Andrew Cole

      They quietly ignore the fact that the man who hailed ‘prudence’, that crowed about the ‘finances being in surplus’, that ‘boom and bust was a thing of the past’ then went on an 8 year spending binge!!!!

      • Tim Gingell

        Much like the current Chancellor – as the debt mounts..

        • Caractacus

          Do you want to get rid of that debt?

          Then please outline where you will cut £80 billion pounds of Government spending per year so that we can move into a surplus and get out of the deficit we have been in since Gordon Brown’s era.

          Then please suggest how to do it without plunging Britain back into depression.

          Cos Osborne is walking that tightrope and he’s doing it better than you could I’d wager.

          • Mara Naile-Akim

            you cannot get out of debt by cutting spending, as Greece has found out. You cut spending, your economy shrinks, your revenue falls. Back to where you started.

          • Andrew Cole

            But you cannot get out of debt by throwing money at people who don’t need more money. Cut the money from those who don’t need it and focus on the much much smaller amount of people that really do need it.

            The Tories are having to correct the money that bought votes through the 90s.

          • Bertie

            Good job we havent cut spending then eh!!!

            National Debt 2010 £760 billion odd.
            Annual budget deficit since 2010 £90-95billion odd.
            National Debt 2015 £1.5 trillion.

            ie Added £750 billion odd to National Debt.

            So no spending cuts!! if anything we’ve had a spending splurge! Hate to see what you define as profligacy.

          • Bertie

            Saving £80bn – that’s a tough one indeed.

            Let’s see – a quick mull.

            I’d abolish foreign aid, some £12bn per annum currently.

            Leaving the EU, signing up to a Free Trade agreement would save us Gross £12bn+(Net £10bn) here too.And that’s before the adhoc demands for £1.7bn here, or the odd fine there!

            So that’s £22bn per annum saved almost immediately.

            I’d cancel HS2. Saving c £6+bn per year? Perhaps more.

            I’d contract out the housing of our prisoners to one of the poorer Eastern European countries. Current costs of £30-35,000 per prisoner, per year, to incarcerate them at HM pleasure is simply extortionate. The added bonus of the savings we’d secure by contracting out to poorer Eastern Europe is the money/job opportunities it’d provide in their countries.It might assist in reducing the brain drain many of these nations are experiencing.

            I’d end health tourism, by making it mandatory that anyone seeking treatment on the NHS either proffers a valid Nat Insurance /ID card, evidence of Health insurance/ID, or a valid debit/Credit Card.ID.

            That’s sure to save £1bn per year at least.

            I’d End Child benefit/Child tax credit across the board after 2nd child.To be restricted to one child only,within 5 years. You want more than one child, pay for it yourself. You want 7-13 kids, pay for them yourself rather than hard working families who actually cant afford to subsidise you.

            I’d end tax loopholes that so many exploit – one set tax free allowance with CGT relief to be indexed/tapered as it used to be – short term trading by the spivs to be hit with a new tax to encourage long term orientation rather than short term punting.

            I’d end the Barnett formula.

            I’d relocate naval shipyard work down south, based on economic criteria, rather than the dubious political grounds much of it was awarded to the Clyde.

            Automation of the London Underground in conjunction with the slashing of train driver salaries from their current ridiculous £50,000 per year for a 36-38 hour week.

            Additionally I’d look into the conversion of suitable accommodation such that ALL the MP’s could be housed under one roof(as and when they needed to be) rather than allowing them to rip off the taxpayer via mortgages to purchase properties on dubious pretexts – the movement of main residence status such that over several years they get taxpayer to refurbish all their properties. I’d also confiscate all properties purchased to date via such methods.If they’ve been sold then their pay to be docked until the capital gain they’ve made is retrieved. I’d also cut their salaries to £55,000 – no way they should be earning more given that they’ve contracted out most of our laws to the EU.

            These two wont save much but it will be immensely satisfying.

            That’s just for starters, plenty of other opportunities I’m sure. The sooner we get into budget surplus the better – then we can start working on the national debt.(And thereby reduce the amount of annual interest we have to pay – currently at £54billion per year odd)

          • Caractacus

            Much of these I would wholeheartedly support.

            However. Look at last quarter and this quarter. Last quarter the economy was in surplus. This quarter we’re back into massive deficit. All dependent on tax receipts. A bumper load last quarter, less than expected this quarter. Any meddling with the economy at all puts those tax receipts in danger. For example. Ending International Aid. I 100% agree with this, but…

            Most of that aid gets handed out to agencies who then use it to pay their staff and order goods that get shipped out. Cut it off tomorrow and agencies lose funding/go bust, people get sacked, companies lose orders. Loss of income tax, loss of corporation tax, loss of VAT. Huge drop in tax receipts. All of which knocks on. Any of those losing jobs could become long term unemployed taking benefits out of the economy. Those companies supplying goods could also go belly up, losing more jobs. You’ve taken out a huge Government spending point, but you have also lost an unknown amount of Government income and thrown contagious contraction into the economy.

            On paper clearing the deficit looks easy. It is not. Cut too much too fast and the economy tanks. It is a balancing act and really truly, it can only be ended by growing the economy to match it. Only once we are in surplus can we truly start to heavily cut without worrying too much about the knock on consequences, because only then can we cover them.

            This is what most people don’t realise was so insidious about what Brown did to the economy, it’s why there really is no austerity and won’t be for years. It’s why Osborne’s original five year plan wasn’t implemented and the plans will only extend, not contract, because it’s dependent on growth. It’s why Osborne is playing into the housing boom while he can. He’s gambling that we can clear the deficit before it bursts. It doesn’t look pretty from the outside, but it’s a good gamble. This is why I think Osborne is actually doing a very good job, considering all the above. The economy continues to grow and the deficit continues to shrink. The tight rope is walked. Can you imagine the disaster if Ed Balls was in charge now or worse, Vince Cable or John McDonnell?

    • noot!noot

      But look at how things are connected – in the week Corbyn is crowned Labour leader that great Australian revisionist Abbott (we will assume for now he is unrelated to Diane) is replaced without a peep of the right thinking UK press outlets. I feel a nice little conspiracy theory is in the making.

    • Jules Wright

      “When the tide goes out, you see who’s bathing naked”. Nothwithstanding the image of Crash Gordon bathing naked, that is fabulous.

    • Colin

      “The fact that Cable predicted the crash ”

      To be fair, he predicted five out of the last 2 crashes.

    • Abie Vee

      Well: that’s the (Tory) narrative. The facts are otherwise; the public debt-to-GDP ratio for the year 2006/2007, before the global crisis broke, was in fact just 37%… that is to say, LOWER that the 40% they inherited when taking office from the Tories in 1997, and moderate by both historic and international standards. Any claim that the fiscal position was dire before the onset of the Great Recession is not tenable.

      The greatest economic error of the past decade was made by those who argued that the government should cut back spending in synchronisation with the private sector.. something that, in the event, made the slump far worse. Step forward George, and take a bow.

  • Andrew Cole

    Wow the Spectator is publishing articles before they’ve been written. 19th September?

    • davidshort10

      The official publication date is the Saturday and always has been. Other weeklies do it too.

      • Andrew Cole

        Never noticed before. I’ll not make the same silly post again now…ever 🙂

  • davidshort10

    In my experience the Sunday Times still pays for unpublished but commissioned work so hopefully you got paid twice. I would imagine the ST pays a lot more than the Guardian, with the latter’s perilously plunging circulation.

  • Clive

    This piece is a bit disingenuous because Labour was in power until 2010. The real problem came between 2008 and 2010 after the crash.

    The Labour government does not appear to have done anything to try and rein in spending in light of the crash and a major contraction of the economy http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11576801/Did-New-Labour-spend-too-much-in-government.html.

    The deficit as a percentage of GDP therefore rose to 11%.

  • paulthorgan

    “One of the great Tory propaganda successes of recent years, which Labour
    never managed to rebut, was the pretence that the financial meltdown in
    the autumn of 2008 was somehow almost uniquely British and mainly the
    fault of Labour profligacy.”

    It was uniquely British. The complicating factor was the credit crunch. The loan impairment rates for HBOS and RBS were scandalous. Northern Rock had managers that concealed its bad debts as well.

    Labour changed the way banks were regulated so the bankers took over the regulatory body and it looked the other way when they over-lent to dodgy borrowers. The FSA did not learn the lessons of the crash of RBS and allowed the Rev Paul Flowers to chair the board of the Co-op bank.

    Labour’s deficit was based on taxes on the banks’ profits paying for their profligacy. It was a disaster waiting to happen. When the banks failed, the government ran out of money.