My grandfather is one of our forgotten heroes

Taken from the Herbert Morrison lecture, given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, at Church House, London
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The Independent Online

I cannot think of a case where a serving member of a Labour Cabinet has delivered a memorial lecture named in honour of his own grandfather, who himself was a member of a Labour Cabinet. I am very proud of grandpa. I retain happy memories of the Saturday lunches at our north London home. I can still picture his white Morris car turning into our road, with that shock of white hair emerging first from the tiny vehicle and his colourful bow tie following. I remember the napkin tucked into his collar at table, followed by the postprandial cigar, sit-down and snooze.

I cannot think of a case where a serving member of a Labour Cabinet has delivered a memorial lecture named in honour of his own grandfather, who himself was a member of a Labour Cabinet. I am very proud of grandpa. I retain happy memories of the Saturday lunches at our north London home. I can still picture his white Morris car turning into our road, with that shock of white hair emerging first from the tiny vehicle and his colourful bow tie following. I remember the napkin tucked into his collar at table, followed by the postprandial cigar, sit-down and snooze.

But since coming into government, I have fastened on to other dimensions of his story. He cared for this party. To him, there was no way we could transform Britain without the Labour Party as the vital instrument of transformation. And for this, Labour had to be a credible party, strong in organisation and bursting with intensely practical ideas. Herbert Morrison is one of Labour's forgotten heroes: Labour's first and greatest Leader of the London County Council; the Home Secretary who sustained London through the Blitz; the dominant figure on the NEC in masterminding Labour's 1945 victory; and the man who, as Deputy Prime Minister in the Attlee Cabinet, can take more credit than anyone else for driving through that government's domestic programme.

But, first and foremost, he was the quintessential political organiser - I hesitate to make the comparison and I fall far short of his achievement, but I hope I see something of my grandfather in me. Morrison came up through the party. Morrison loved the party, which is why he stuck with it in the disaster of 1931, just as I did in Labour's worst moments in 1981. And we both played our part in rebuilding Labour's potential as an election-winning organisation.

We both, in our different ways, in different eras, obeyed Keir Hardie's famous injunction to the early Labour Party to "look first to the register". Those of us who care deeply about political organisation and strategy are unfairly open to the charge that we are little interested in ideas and policy, and lacking in convictions.

Morrison had to put up with this nonsense. He even had a saying attributed to him, allegedly offering as his definition of socialism that: "Socialism is what a Labour government does." If he did say this, I suspect he was merely pointing up the fact that Labour governments have to speak a language of priorities, that there will always be some (usually members of the Labour Party) who like to focus on that bit of the government that they think is "not socialist", and that people (usually the same members of the Labour Party) tend to forget the alternative, which is a Tory government on a very different agenda.

Throughout his political life, my grandfather asserted that Labour should have a broad appeal across the social classes, not because he believed in a mushy centre but because he believed that lower- and middle-income Britain rely on many of the same things, from universal services to rights at work to safety on the streets.

He came from nothing, or very little, but surrounded himself with people from a broader educational and social background. This was not because he was a social climber - he hated the sneering British upper class - but because he had the confidence and self-assurance to realise he had a lot to learn from others. He was an inveterate ambassador for the Labour cause in hitherto hostile territories.

Now, as time and our experience in government advances, we need to deepen New Labour's roots. New Labour has to move from our necessary concern with getting the fundamentals right, to being a positive shaper of Britain's destiny. The second term is when we can build on firm foundations, and change for good the balance of power in Britain, putting power, wealth and opportunity firmly in the hands of the many not the few. It remains New Labour's mission.

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