THE NEW ESTABLISHMENT Day ten The fixers If the going gets tough for Prime Minister Blair, he'll need well-connected, heavyweight help. By Peter Popham

Peter Popham
Thursday 26 September 1996 23:02

The Labour Party is superbly prepared for the job of fighting the election, but what might happen if it wins remains a bit of a blank. After nearly 18 years in opposition, Labour's front-bench experience of power is negligible. So if the party wins, the first months are bound to be a white-knuckle ride. The new government is going to find itself in desperate need of strong, steady, men of the world to see them through.

The ghost of Arnold (Lord) Goodman hovers above this series. Goodman, though never a card-carrying Labour Party member, was the arch Establishment figure behind the Labour governments of the Sixties and Seventies, because he was powerful in so many separate spheres - law, the arts, the press, business - that he could make all sorts of different things happen; and he was happy to be made use of by Harold Wilson, whether to bang heads together at the Arts Council or mediate with Ian Smith on Rhodesia. "He is a kind of universal joint," Anthony Sampson wrote in 1972, "always able to join one bit of scaffolding to another... [he] has become indispensable as an adviser and settler of disputes, cajoling, defining and settling ... not only between people but between institutions...." His hulking frame, bushy eyebrows and commanding growl of a voice dominated the dining tables of power year after year.

No single contemporary figure can fill Goodman's shoes, but if PM Blair is prudent he will carry in his breast pocket a list of the best equivalents, people he can scream for when the wheels come off.

Roy (Lord) Jenkins is too old (nearly 76) and dignified to gallivant a la Goodman. But as Chancellor of Oxford University, president of the Royal Society of Literature and co-president of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, not to mention honoured member of the Athenaeum, Brooks's, Pratt's, the Reform and the Beefsteak, he is the centre left's most Establishment figure by a mile. His betrayal of the party by founding the SDP is no longer an issue. He and Blair talk regularly. The smoothest man who ever carried a party card, he would be invaluable in settling ruffled City and business feathers.

Two prominent left-leaning academics, Peter Hennessy and Vernon Bogdanor, know the murky workings of the British constitution inside out, and will be ideally placed to hold Blair's hand through his first constitutional crises; both are also known at Court. Of the two, Hennessy is the better bet, because he also has many highly placed friends in the Civil Service.

Dennis Stevenson, wealthy chairman of GPA, the aircraft leasing company, is the Labour supporter who forged the party's deal with BT that was announced at last year's conference and which so alarmed the Tories. Stevenson knows everybody, helped set up the Demos think-tank and is chairman of the Tate Gallery's trustees.

All these men (no women, as ever) are approaching or over 50. Two younger figures whose brains and networking skills demand to be tapped are the lawyer Anthony Julius (pictured, left) and the Christian Socialist Chris Bryant.

Julius has already distinguished himself both in law, as Princess Diana's representative in the divorce courts, and literature, with an acclaimed study of TS Eliot's anti-Semitism. A party member since his teens, he is standing for election to the executive of the Fabian Society. As a partner in the firm of Mishcon de Reya, and thus a protege of that Goodmanesque Establishment figure, the Labour peer Lord Mishcon, and expected to take his place when he eventually retires (Mishcon is 81), he could be in line for spectacular advancement.

Bryant will be Blair's spiritual adviser. Anglican priest, Hackney councillor, leading figure in and historian of the Christian Socialist Movement, which has the allegiance of 20 Labour frontbenchers, including Blair and Brown, he could have a role as the conscience of the government, walking refutation of the charge that new Labour is morally rudderless.

These are about as many names as will fit on a file card. But Blair will need another list, this one of people who may think they have a claim to Establishment status, but who should be rigorously shut out:

David Owen: has yet to back a winning horse.

Ken and Barbara Follett: still the unacceptable face of Luvviedom. Can Ken do nothing about his hair, or his red Bentley?

David Puttnam, Melvyn Bragg, John Mortimer: tireless self-promoters, strongly identified with Labour, but their extraordinary attempt this month to swing the party behind fox hunting suggests deep unreliability. Post-election, they can expect rapid marginalisation. And the louder they squeal, the happier Blair will be.

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