The 2010 General Election Guide
And so farewell...
Tuesday 06 April 2010
The Wintertons - Toffs with a penchant for poor jokes and first-class travel
The dignity with which they presented themselves, the volume of public space they occupied, the cash they took out of the system . . . They were the end of an era. Dinosaurs, Bed-blockers. Old-school parliamentarians.
And a very successful little family business in their husband and wife team. Between them they served in the Commons for 63 years and will be retiring with honours, emoluments and £60,000 of annual pension to live on. He has been an energetic old warhorse from the right of the party and latterly suffered the jeering support of his younger colleagues when he called to speak. He never held ministerial office, but for all his hoariness sat on the Modernisation committee.
Has parliament modernised? He would say enormously; the public hasn't noticed any difference.
Their joint reputation suffered latterly with Lady W's penchant for unpleasant jokes, Sir Nicholas's demand for first class travel ("they're a totally different type of people" in standard class) and for slapping the rear of a comely Labour MP in the tearoom. His defence was: It's the sort of thing he did so often that he couldn't remember whether he had on this occasion or not.
More seriously, he and his wife paid off their mortgage, put the house in a trust and paid £120,000 of taxpayer-funded rent to their children. It was all within the rules. And judging by their business-as-normal demeanour in the Commons they look at each other in the morning with no less admiration despite their public humiliations.
Will we see their like again? These profit-taking impulses may be endemic to the political class. Plus ca change, that's probably the way to bet.
John Prescott - Shop-floor magician who was fluent in the lingua franca of Old Labour
What a roller coaster of a career he had, what a ride it was. As much as the foursome that founded New Labour (Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell), John Prescott was the one who created the coalition in the party. It was his speech to conference that delivered the Clause Four vote for Tony Blair. His brawling, quayside character kept the coalition together once they were in power. Without him, New Labour's quarterdeck was full of political aristocrats and middle class intellectuals - only he had a fluent command of the lingua franca of Old Labour. This was recognised in the sincerest way: they made him deputy prime minister.
In the first government he had a super ministry under his hand, a collection of departments (it was the days of "joined-up government" and "cross-cutting reviews"). He and his sidekick Hillary Armstrong struggled, frankly, among the technocrats and experts - those clever young women with the severe haircuts and Masters degrees in Administrative Administration. His departmental responsibilities diminished as the years went by, and "spatial strategies" lost the glamour they once had. His passion for devolved assemblies never bore fruit, even in the north east where he massively lost a referendum on the issue.
But he was widely held to have delivered the Kyoto Agreement, he became an essential intermediary between Tony and Gordon, and his round-up speech at the end of conference was invariably the second-best event of the week.
He loathed the press, and who shall blame him considering the torment he was subjected to. He once threw a comment at us waiting to watch him in committee - "come to pour another bucket of shit over Parliament, have you?" He resented the Tories calling over the floor of the House, "A gin and tonic, if you will, Giovani!" And it is to his party's credit that such taunts don't work in Britain any more.
He punched a voter. And looking back it's possible to view that warmly (if you think there's no chance of retaliation there's no courage in throwing an egg). He had sex with an employee behind the open door of his office. That was less spinnable. She went public later with a description of the encounter, including the words "cocktail sausage". It was a measure of his indispensability that he wasn't sacked.
One other point in his favour - we always knew what he was saying. His syntax may have been a cat's cradle but his meaning was always clear. Tony Blair's sentences were Corinthian - but you never knew for certain what he meant until he explained it a year or two later in front of an inquiry.
John Prescott was a public meeting politician, with a reach into the messy entrails of his audience. He could work his magic on street corners, factory floors, docksides, The modern young technocrats - so at home in interview studios - look puny beside him.
Alan Milburn - He could have been a contender but didn’t want it enough
He could have been a contender. He was an heir to Blair with brains, charm, looks and more street appeal than the Miliboys. He gave a very good impression of a human being. He was capable of pretending to nod off behind one of his earnest juniors at the despatch box.
He had Third Way ideas of reforming public services by the use of markets and commercial freedoms. The chancellor crushed him twice. First over foundation hospitals and second over the 2005 election. The campaign was faltering until Gordon was brought back in.
He withdrew to spend more time with his family and his consultancies. In the end, he didn't want it enough.
Chris Mullin - A man of small victories
After 23 years leaves the Commons with a modernising victory - a committee will now timetable non-government business. There's less to that than meets the eye. But the House as a whole will also now vote for slect committee members, let's see how that works.
As chair of the Home Affairs committee he brought a journalistic scepticism to enquiries, and had an integrity that went beyond party politics. He voted against 90 days detention and claimed expenses for a black and white TV.
His ministerial career was a shambles. It wasn't that he didn't want it enough - he didn't want it at all. His first act was to resign. But Tony rang him up and in 15 seconds persuaded him to take the job back up again. However, he had been right the first time.
As a minister for Africa his Commons performances amounted to, "I agree it's terrible but it's all more difficult than it appears."
Andrew Mackinlay – The Boxer
Short and stocky he looks useful in a fight. He was and is the model of an independent MP. He sits on the Labour side below the gangway with the dissidents. When called, he stands like a boxer jabbing away at his own front bench rather than the Tories. He speaks English with a prominent Essex accent, is scornful of ideology, partisan point-scoring, and the intelligence services. He never intervened with those morale-sapping patsies to support the government. In one of his earlier questions at PMQs he derided planted questions from New Labour sycophants. It's amazing he got as far as he did. That is, he had a long-term place on the Foreign Affairs select committee. He's had just enough position to avoid being irrelevant. Was it worth it? Oo, that's a question that must haunt him and others of his age and length of service. He spent his prime in Parliament. And who's grateful? Some of us were – and are. Let's hope it's enough.
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