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UK Politics

Village people: Low turn out, weak mandate

More than 2 million people have a vote in the Labour leadership election, which will trudge on through the summer to a crescendo on 25 September. But how many will avail themselves of the chance to vote must be a cause for concern.

The Society of Labour Lawyers has completed a ballot of its 598 members to decide which candidates would receive the society's formal backing. Labour lawyers, you might think, would be among the more motivated sections of the electorate, yet turn out in this ballot was a dismal eight per cent. In other word, 48 out of 598 bothered to vote. The result was Ed Miliband 18, David Miliband 17, Diane Abbott 8, Andy Burnham 9, and Ed Balls nil. If that reflects the level of enthusiasm, it is not going to be a resounding mandate.

Lady Healy's bombshell

The spectacle of Harriet Harman's chief of staff Anna Healy taking her seat in the House of Lords this week is an excuse to retell an old story from the mid-1980s. In those days, Lady Healy – as we must now call her – was a Labour Party press officer, Lord Mandelson was her boss, and Joe Haines, Harold Wilson's former press secretary, was an influential journalist on the Daily Mirror.

After one party conference, it was reported to Mandelson that Healy and Haines had had a furious row over unilateral nuclear disarmament. She was for it; he against. Mandelson's reaction was unusually philosophical. "Anna has rather extreme views on defence," he said, "she agrees with Labour Party policy."

They think it's all ogre...

It has been a good month for ogres. Shrek Forever After has brought cheer to a gloomy summer for cinema managers by grossing £9m at the box office. And in the Westminster Village, John Hayes, Tory MP for South Holland, has extended his influence. As well as being a Minister of State in the Business Department he is, from this week, now also an Education Minister. His responsibility in both roles is training teenagers. Hayes's nickname among his fellow Tories is "Shrek" – but as our picture shows, they are not really alike at all.

Defiant to the end

This week saw the passing of an incorrigible old class warrior named Marian Slingova, nee Wilbraham, who marched against the Iraq war in 2003, at the age of 90. Even three years' solitary confinement in a Stalinist jail in Prague, while her husband was judicially murdered, could not shake her indestructible faith in a socialist future.

She had lost her British citizenship when she married Ota Sling, who was a rising star of the Czechoslovak communist party until he was caught up in the last Stalinist purge and tortured to confess to trumped up charges. Sling had lost so much weight in prison that during the show trial his trousers fell down, almost causing the grim proceedings to dissolve into farce. He was sentenced to death. As he was led away, he threw a conspiratorial grin at a young defendant, Artur London, who escaped with a jail sentence. Years later, in his memoirs, he was still bemused by that cryptic smile on the face of a doomed man.