No longer living next door to Alice

by Stephen Tall on April 18, 2009

Here’s a confession for you – I once voted for Alice Mahon, the veteran former Labour MP who has today announced her resignation of her party membership after 50 years.

It was back in the mid-1990s, when I was a youthful Labour member, who had taken too much to heart George Bernard Shaw’s adage that anyone who isn’t a socialist by the age of 25 has no heart (I’ve also lived up to the mirror half of the quote: “if one is over 25 and still a socialist he has no head”). Alice was standing for Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee on the left-wing Campaign Committee slate – so she got my vote, simple as that. I like to think I’ve moved on a but since then, that I now judge politicians as individuals not simply as labels.

In his post, The Importance of Alice Mahon, Tory blogger Iain Dale tries to big-up Alice’s resignation, equating it to the defections of sitting MPs the Tories suffered during the Major years. I’m not convinced, not least because she hasn’t taken the further, ultimate step of ‘betrayal’ – the bit loyalist members find unforgivable – and joined another party. Reading the Yorkshire Post’s article, which broke the story, her reasons seem to be a mix of the personal and political familiar to most resignations.

(She also seems to be under a bit of a misapprehension of the chronology of ‘Smeargate’: “My stepdaughter Rachel said to me: ‘How could they do that to people like David Cameron and his wife Samantha when they had recently lost their son Ivan? What kind of people think it would be a good idea to smear them?’ “I was sickened by that – that is not the Labour Party that I joined all those years ago.” Damian McBride’s emails of course pre-date the death of Ivan by a couple of months. Not that that makes them any better, of course.)

Yet it is telling that such a doughty Labour supporter, a woman who tolerated Tony Blair’s premiership and her party’s decision to embark on a war against Iraq, has finally cut her ties with the party during Gordon Brown’s leadership. During his decade of brooding waiting, Mr Brown constantly hinted his left-ist Real Labour credentials – not out of belief, but simply to position himself as the heir-presumptive. It is hardly surprising that those Labour members who clung on in the hope of something better, more authentic, are now doubly disappointed.