Hattersley the rebel smarts from Blunkett's savaging

  • @johnrentoul

Political Correspondent

Roy Hattersley said he "hated" the "trauma" of his new-found role as conference darling of the rebellious left yesterday, as he smarted from a brutal put-down from David Blunkett on the platform.

He had seemed to revel in the delegates' applause after his first speech from the floor for 20 years and he took the long route back to his seat so that he could savour it. It was only when Mr Blunkett departed from his text to savage him that Mr Hattersley's face started to fall.

The former deputy leader claims that he does not want to be involved in political controversy. "Like the Queen Mother in 1936, I hoped to spend the rest of my life in comfortable obscurity," he said.

He says he was offered a Cabinet post in a Labour government by John Smith, when he told the former leader that he would not be standing for the Commons again at the next election. He says Mr Smith told him: "I hoped you would see us in for a year or two." But Mr Hattersley says he did not like the idea of being an"old man" in a Labour cabinet, delaying the advancement of younger talents.

Instead, he returned to his original craft of journalism and started earning a lot of money as a writer. Some of his articles are cultural. Some are autobiographical - the best was the Roy Hattersley Diet (before, 15st 2lbs; after, 15st 2lbs). Andlater this month he publishes Who Goes Home? the story of his political life.

But some of his articles are political, and in January he struck a chord on education, and began an extraordinary transformation into left-wing firebrand and leadership critic.

This culminated in his appearance at the Tribune Rally on Tuesday. He was paying back a 21-year-old grudge. He told how Tony Crosland told him off for losing "thousands of votes" by pledging, as education spokes- man, to abolish fee-paying schools. He was still bitter about Harold Wilson's refusal to give him the job in government.

But left-wing dissenters, as Liz Davies has also discovered, have to pay a price - the "new Labour" leadership hits back, and hits back hard. Asked if Mr Blunkett's attack on him hurt, he said: "That's politics." But he was hurt. Will he retreat to lick his wounds, or will he fight on?