Great Auntie Liz takes Yvette on a merry tap dance to Westminster

If Yvette’s Hampshire childhood wasn’t quite as Dickensian as her story hints, the last thing she’d do is ramp up the poverty cred to appeal to her electorate

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The Independent Online

The Labour leadership election becomes even more captivating as a potential game-changer descends from above. The deus ex machina is Yvette Cooper’s late Great Auntie Liz, whom she cites as the catalyst for her political awakening. Yvette tells the Sunday Mirror she was diverted from her girlhood dream of becoming a tap dancer by an epiphany. “Her charisma [sic] shines through,” claims a Sunday Mirror interviewer, “as she recalls the moment in 1988 that set her off on the journey to Westminster.”

Says Yvette: “I remember coming home and finding my mum in tears. Nigel Lawson had cut pensions and it would mean my Great Auntie Liz – who was like a Grandma to us – would be hit. Auntie Liz was one of those amazing women… She would deliver babies and lay out the bodies when people couldn’t afford the undertaker. She had done so much and she was having her pension cut… and I thought, ‘Hang on, if you want to do something to support Auntie Liz, it’s politics that needs to change’. So I decided to go into politics.”

If Yvette’s Hampshire childhood as the daughter of a teacher and a trade union leader wasn’t quite as Dickensian as her story hints, the last thing she’d do is ramp up the poverty cred to appeal to her electorate. Yet if her anecdote has a flaw, it’s this. Pensions increased in 1988, in real terms (the Budget hiked the state pension by 4 per cent, to £41.15 when inflation was 3.5 per cent).

This is the most dramatic instance of innumeracy shaping Labour history since the miscalculation of a month’s balance of trade figures forced Denis Healey unnecessarily to slash the welfare budget. The correction came too late to avoid the Winter of Discontent and subsequent election of Thatcher. But that was then. There may yet be time for Yvette to abandon politics, dig out the old tap shoes, and revive her girlish dream. If her heart is set on being the heir to Blair, in the name of God let it be Lionel.

The value of original thinking

Yvette Cooper’s auntie isn’t the only Liz to feature in Labour’s battle for power. The other one appeared on Andrew Marr’s show yesterday. Liz Kendall, the current second favourite behind Andy Burnham, denied Yvette’s snarky accusation that she has swallowed the Tory manifesto. “The only thing I’ve swallowed,” she primly told Marr, “is the scale of defeat.”

This is true. She certainly hasn’t swallowed a thesaurus or a political philosophy, preferring to trot out such familiar lines from the campaign she disowns as the need to rebalance the economy, create secure jobs and “focus on the big issues facing our country in the future”. She also means “to stand up for Britain’s national interest”, and in desperate times you cannot overstate the value of original thinking. “Are you big enough for the job? Do you have the heft?” Marr asked. Liz interpreted that literally. But given the challenges of the job and the robotic performance that preceded the question, to these ears it sounded rhetorical.

No talk on David’s homecoming

While he enjoys self-imposed exile in New York, David Miliband’s Westminster fan club works in his interest. Labour’s petty prince across the water will nip over in October, just after the next Labour leader is chosen, to give what is optimistically styled as “a major speech” to the Institute of Directors. Encouraged by the subtlety of this timing, his supporters put it about that the only thing preventing him coming home to fulfill his destiny is his brother’s presence in the Commons. It isn’t clear whether David is party to this nastiness. But without necessarily believing the rumours that they haven’t spoken to each other in two years, and that David’s wife was heard joyfully whooping when the exit poll was released, it doesn’t get easier to buy Little Ed’s line that the relationship is healing splendidly.

Perhaps drugs can affect players’ memories?

Mo Farah’s coach wasn’t the only sportsman dealing with imputations about banned substances on the weekend. Plugging a book to mark the 30th anniversary of his Wimbledon victory at 17, Boris Becker spoke with Lynn Barber, who asked if he took any drugs when playing “No. What people forget is that tennis is an Olympic sport since 1984, so we were tested almost as much as these guys today.” What he forgets is his 1993 interview with a German paper in which he suggested that tennis players were using performance enhancing drugs.

I’d put down that bottle of fame, Jeremy, if I were you

The death of a contemporary has Jeremy Clarkson, who is on the wagon, reflecting on alcohol dependence. “He was an affable soul who liked what I’m sure he would have called a tincture,” he writes of Charles Kennedy, perhaps mistaking him for Denis Thatcher. In an otherwise typically cogent Sunday Times column, he sources the deaths of Kennedy, Amy Winehouse, George Best and others not to alcoholism itself. “What killed [them] was something far more dangerous than alcohol,” he concludes. “It’s probably what really killed good old Charles Kennedy too: fame.” Was it though? Or is that the self-pitying Jeremy hinting he was driven by the pulverising pressures of fame to get pissed, clock the producer and kill his Top Gear career? Sometimes, you do wonder if he’s writing about himself.