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A sad sight of the old fearing the young

Posted on 25 March 2009 | 5:03pm

I’ve never fully understood quite why Mirror hack Kevin Maguire feels so
bitter, but boy does he? I know he still goes on about some Bill Clinton
article he drafted which I am supposed to have given to The Sun.

I’ve never had
the heart to tell him his draft was so badly written I wouldn’t have shown it
to the President’s driver, let alone the President. Then I suspect he knows
that Gordon might have consulted me when some of Kevin’s friends were
suggesting him for a job in Number 10 or the Labour Party, and I did what I
always do – said what I thought.

And most recently, I fear the non appearance
of his occasional column in my guest edited New Statesman might have not gone down well. But again, was I going to put his weekly dose of not terribly well
informed gossip ahead of my splendid interview with Alex Ferguson, my other half’s excellent read on education or TB’s interesting piece on
God?
Anyway, whatever it is that causes the Maguire misery, there was another
example of it in his latest Mirror column, a piece about Georgia Gould’s
efforts to become Labour candidate for Erith and Thamesmead.

Georgia, 22, is the daughter of Labour pollster and strategist Philip Gould,
probably my closest friend in politics. It will surprise nobody to know I think
his daughter, who I have known all her life, is a wonderful young woman of deep
values and convictions and whose dedication to Labour and progressive causes
matches that of anyone I know, whatever their age.

Without knowing her, or
anything much about the race in which she is involved, Maguire took it upon
himself to tip a bucket of bile over her head. There is no point going into who
put him up to it, but I did like his claim (as he was being spun into having
his strings pulled) to be against spinning and string-pulling. Suffice to say
there is old politics, represented by Maguire and his spinning pal(s), and
there is new politics, represented by a new generation, and someone who through
sheer hard work, belief and personality has gone from back of the field to a
place where the old style fixers feel they have to run a smear campaign to
stall her momentum. First they tried the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday
and then, when they saw that had backfired in Georgia’s favour, the only
Labour-supporting paper, the Mirror.

I worked for the Mirror for a few years. I had licence to be opinionated. But
I was also under pressure to base my opinion on fact. If my facts were
questioned by the people I wrote about, Richard Stott, my editor for most of
the time I was writing about politics, would haul me in.

Current editor Richard Wallace and deputy Conor Hanna are both decent men who
take their jobs seriously. So I wonder if they would care to ask Maguire on
what basis he stated – as a fact, without qualification – that I had phoned a
local activist ‘to ludicrously claim the daughter of pollster Lord Gould is talked of as a
future prime minister.’ (The split infinitive is Maguire’s not mine by the
way.)

As they inquire into his sources and methods, I will tell them a few
facts. My entire contribution to Georgia’s campaign, other than encouraging her
to go for it, has been one phone call, to two activists, a married couple, one
of whom is a former Mirror colleague and who, as it happened, made clear that
though he was impressed by Georgia he was unlikely to vote for her. The point
of the call was simply to say, to someone I know, that despite her youth, or
perhaps even because of it, Georgia was worth taking seriously. Does Maguire,
his bosses might ask, know who this person was, and has he spoken to him or his
wife? If so, did he ask if at any stage I said Georgia might be a future PM?
No, I didn’t think so. Because it is a lie fed by someone spinning against
Georgia to a journalist doing as he’s told.

So one phone call, which appears to have delivered zero votes .. In the Mail
on Sunday this was apparently enough to say I was masterminding the campaign.
But is it too much to expect a Labour paper might have slightly higher
standards?

Given the authority with which Maguire sought to coat the story,
the editor might assume his reporter had been to the area, checked out the
other candidates, taken soundings around the place? They should ask that too.

I too know nothing about the other candidates, apart from former
minister Melanie Johnson, who I like. So in saying I would back Georgia to
fight like hell for Labour, and as an MP to work round the clock for her
constituents, and that I can’t think of anyone better to become Labour’s youngest
ever MP, I do not in any way run down any of her opponents.

But there is something sad in seeing a middle aged man like Maguire take such
joy in continuing the smear campaign against a young woman doing well.

Because not just in Erith but right round the country, if Labour is going
to stay in power, we need young people with energy, passion and hope, not the
tired cynicism of failed hackery, be it that of a journalist or a self-styled
fixer feeding him bilge. If I wanted to feel bitter about some of the antics of
Gordon’s more evangelical followers when I was working for TB, it wouldn’t be
hard given some of the stuff they got up to. But what’s the point? Gordon is PM
now and I desperately want him to carry on being PM after the next election.

I suggest that anyone who shares that aim thinks a little bit about the
Party’s future, not settling personal scores about their own past.

Indeed, I would argue – as a fellow middle-aged man but one happy to see a new
generation emerge – that it has never, ever been more important to give the
future a chance as Labour shapes the agenda on which Gordon will fight the next
election. And if we don’t believe in young talent flourishing, what exactly do
we believe in?

  • Jack Kenley

    I’ve dealt with Maguire in the past too – nasty piece of work.

    Good luck to Georgia Gould, why should a 22-year-old not be an MP? William Pitt the Younger was an MP at 22 and PM at 24!

  • Alina Palimaru

    Superb! I have been seeing these malevolent articles for days now, and was wondering when you planned to respond… You just did and couldn’t have said it better!

  • Stu W

    Well said Alistair, its essential that young talent is not only allowed to come through, But more importantly should be actively encouraged.
    Btw used to love your column in the Mirror

  • Albert Shanker

    In any case, most people in the know about selections know that it is extremely difficult to force a candidate on a constituency. The way you win is by talking to members in the flesh, standing up for the area that you want to represent and wearing the soles out on as many pairs of shoes as possible.

    Whoever is spinning this seat against Gould is doing a disservice to the Labour Party by reinforcing totally outdated stereotypes about how the party operates. Shame on them.

  • Andy

    It would be great you do a interview with Gordon Brown and ask him what his Party Plans if they win the next General Election.iknow the Labour Party think about the future,the Conservatives Party like going back in the Past.

  • AJS

    What on earth can a 22 year old feel they can bring to the table? Experience? Judgement? A track record of hard work?
    Nope…maybe a connected dad, a couple of years leafletting and family money that proclude needing to get a job rather than do this politics lark!

  • Mike, Brighton

    Sorry putting a 22 year old up for election as an MP because her dad is big in the Labour party is elitism (which I thought you opposed), nepotism (which I thought you opposed) and frankly given her 22 years and woeful lack of experience is taking the p*ss out of the electorate. But I guess the political class looks after it’s own, and you have the cheek to criticise the Tories as toffs. Laughable

  • Al Rhodes

    Hi Alastair – don’t normally get the NS but saw you and AF on cover and got a copy. Great article on a fine and loyal bloke (even if his team regularly knock the crap out of mine. But mostly, i enjoyed yours. and others, positive comments about the current political situation – i am enraged, as you are, as to why DC and Tories are getting away scot free without the slighest scrutiny of their comments and ideas, especially on BBC which seems to be run and edited by The Mail these days (i’ve stopped listening. You are quite right – we need to fight back and show the hollowness and double standards of their rhetoric. Friends of the Co-Op and environment indeed, they’ll be claiming to have invented Trade Unionism next!! All the best old chap, great to have you in action and keep up the bagpipes – always a treat in our house!

  • MM

    Sad piece from Maguire again. It’s disappointing that he should talk about a stitch up when he’s clearly trying to stitch it up for his union mates.

    I think Georgia Gould is brave in going for this seat – she would have known full well that she’d be putting herself in the firing line for this sort of rubbish. I’m sure she’d make a better and more committed MP than many who would look to get their hands on a “safe” Labour seat.

  • Emilianna

    How does anything one does in their twenties or thirties prepare them for office? History shows that those who’ve left the law to become MPs do not necessarily go on to be stellar at law-makers.

  • Adam W

    Well put Alastair.

  • CROWNBLOG

    a safe Labour seat will be lost to the Tpries if you are going to bicker like this.

  • Amar

    Why is the Mirror, a supposedly ‘Labour’ paper, sink to not only stoking dispute within the party but make false claims as they do so? And why are Labour people trying to run a smear campaign against someone seeking selection to run as a Labour MP? Why can’t we focus our efforts on selecting the best candidate for Erith and Thamesmead and fighting the Tories rather than having the fight with each other? I can understand why party members might want to treat a 22 year old candidate with a New Labour family background with some degree of caution, but the way in which a local selection process works allows everyone to make their own judgements. The party needs fresh ideas, drive and determination, and if Georgia Gould offers this then who is to say she doesn’t deserve a chance? She doesn’t to me seem like a fresh faced graduate with no experience. She seems to have given every spare minute she had to the Labour Party since she was about sixteen, and is clearly highly thought of by many of those who live and die with the party. It really annoys me I see an article like Maguire’s or the one in the Mail on Sunday, attempting to crush the hopes of a young woman who seems as engaged as anyone. The Mail on Sunday seems to take issue with the fact that Nigerians seem to be taking part in the selection process in numbers larger than ever before. The possibility that Georgia Gould is engaging people into the political process excites me rather than worries me!

  • Charlie

    @AC “Gordon is PM now and I desperately want him to carry on being PM after the next election”.

    There are few more passionate Labour supporters than you. It is possible that your passion may have blinded you to the fact that there are a considerable amount of voters who do not share your favourable opinion of Mr Brown.

    In case you missed them, this oposing view was articulated twice very eloquently in Strasborg yesterday:

    Here is link to Nigel Farage’s speech:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDwQEEAZhWM

    and here is link to Dan Hannan’s
    http://www.order-order.com/2009/03/hannan-tells-gordon-he-is-pathologically-incapable/#comments

  • Amar

    Why is the Mirror, a supposedly ‘Labour’ paper, sink to not only stoking dispute within the party but make false claims as they do so? And why are Labour people trying to run a smear campaign against someone seeking selection to run as a Labour MP? Why can’t we focus our efforts on selecting the best candidate for Erith and Thamesmead and fighting the Tories rather than having the fight with each other? I can understand why party members might want to treat a 22 year old candidate with a New Labour family background with some degree of caution, but the way in which a local selection process works allows everyone to make their own judgements. The party needs fresh ideas, drive and determination, and if Georgia Gould offers this then who is to say she doesn’t deserve a chance? She doesn’t to me seem like a fresh faced graduate with no experience. She seems to have given every spare minute she had to the Labour Party since she was about sixteen, and is clearly highly thought of by many of those who live and die with the party. It really annoys me I see an article like Maguire’s or the one in the Mail on Sunday, attempting to crush the hopes of a young woman who seems as engaged as anyone. The Mail on Sunday seems to take issue with the fact that Nigerians seem to be taking part in the selection process in numbers larger than ever before. Surely this is suggestive that Georgia Gould is exciting people into the political process, and is an achievement to be applauded?

  • Rob

    You omitted this from Maguire:

    “Young Gould’s no shrinking violet, and I despair at this boast: “I travelled to Richmond, Virginia, to work on President Obama’s campaign.

    “Virginia was one of the ‘swing’ states and although I can’t claim to have won it single-handedly for Obama…”

    She seems to possess that unique sense of entitlement diplayed by Harman, Balls (both of them) Milibands Blears, and the rest, thus making her a worthy NuLabuh candidate.

  • Jane A

    The way to bring young people into politics is to have other young people who they can relate to standing as candidates. It’s sad that everyone in this country who has the vote doesn’t use it, and if a wider range of young, committed, energetic and enthusiastic people get selected as PPCs, maybe that will change. It surely can’t hinder. Good for Georgia, I wish her every success.

  • kyro

    Why do two national newspapers, at the first sign of a highly motivated young woman entering politics, feel they have to publically belittle her campaign?

    Her age and experience has been called in to question, but given the current condition of British politics surly we should be supporting the next generation of politicians, not attacking them in the press.

    Her age and perceived lack experience as lead to the naive assumption that she is not fit to stand or be elected, but the very nature of the election process will surly answer that question, if the electorate feel she is the right person to represent them, they will vote for her. And surly the current economic conditions show that experience can not necessarily be relied on.

    For those who assume she has been handed it on a silver plate surly again don’t understand the amount of effort needed to run a successful campaign.

    It is time for a new generation to step into the political arena, and surly this experience will only harden Georgia Gould for what lies ahead of her.

    Clearly Georgia is a shining example of what can be achieved in Britain with motivation, hard work and passion – a public slandering? What impression does this give to the next generation who will lead the country forward?

  • Rob

    @kyro:

    Your argument could be applied equally to the case of Sarah Palin, except that there were a lot more than two newspapers against her.

    The “lack of experience” certainly didn’t go unmentioned by her left-wing critics.

  • Steve Marsh

    Alastair,you don’t know me by name but I was the chap you spoke with at Watford re your mental health work and subsequently bumped into at Turf mMor at the Forest game and later at Ipswich. I heard your interview today on 5 Live and as a former social worker I felt it was well balanced and fair.For too long s/ws have been portrayed as ineffectual,”wet”,politically motivated,scruffy,too young,etc it is time there was a change. Do you know of any good script writers who could develop storylines for a series which could show the complexities of working with families – I’m sure there is enough good stories out there which would make good TV as well redressing the balance.
    Anyway thanks again- 2 ticks( one for your being open and honest about mental health and one for speaking up for a much maligned profession) Up the Clarets!

  • Francis Bond

    Great work Alastair, as a young person myself who has political ambitions i know we have a real problem in this country with the way the media (and many poltiicans) dismiss young people and their views. There is arguably a huge democratic deficit in this country when the views of young people are given so little time and consideration in high levels of government, even on issues that affect them more than anyone else (Knife crime, Education etc). Young people’s interest in politics is directly linked to the interest politics shows in them; the opposition from a number of Conservative MP’s to the idea of The National Youth Parliment debating in the House fo Commons for just one day is a clear case in point.
    If a political party starts to show they will genuinely listen to what young people have to say, they will support young candidates who want to get involved in the political process and they won’t pander to the media’s negativity and sterotyping of young people in this country then that party will start to see young people turning out to vote for them when they become 18. 18-25 year old turnout in elections is incredibly low, this makes them a massively untapped voting constituency; if Labour start to think more seriously about this it could give them a massive advantage in years to come.

  • Chris Simkins

    Hi Alastair. As a 25 year old, I’m very interested in what the future offers for the ‘next generation’ of political leaders.

    I think I probably represent a significant chunk of Generation Y. I am politically minded and left leaning. But ultimately, I am not nearly as tribal as the current set of ‘middle-aged’ leaders appear to be.

    I regularly consider joining the Labour Party and becoming more politically active but I also struggle to accept the implications of strong party political affiliation. If I did launch myself into it, my impression is that I would need to become more left wing to survive? Or worse, I should pretend to be.

    Obviously Tony Blair’s success was largely based on claiming the centre ground and that is where I want to be standing. However, the one thing I feel I don’t share with your generation of Labourites is a deep rooted hatred of the Tories.

    Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand the Tories (and especially not their leader). But unlike Tony Blair and Gordon Brown et al., my political identity has not been defined by the extreme politics of the 1970s and 80s. In the 1980s, even if you were a young moderate left-winger, the prospect of fighting the common enemy of an extreme right wing government must have been compelling. And thanks to the emergence of New Labour in the 1990s, a choice to fight for the centre ground was also a clear choice to be Labour, through and through. I imagine being partisan came naturally then. It doesn’t now.

    Like Tony Blair, I wasn’t involved in student politics, largely because I didn’t feel like I had much in common with young politicos. It seems to me that to be party political at a relatively young age requires either: a fairly extreme ideological conviction (hence my comments about pretending to be more left wing); a strong enemy that inspires hatred (for instance, the Bush administration in the US); or alternatively, perhaps it helps to have been raised by family and friends who are all single-minded members of a particular tribe!

    Where does that leave the rest of us?

    Reading about the political aspirations of Georgia Gould, I find myself not being jealous of her talent, upbringing or connections in high places, but her uncomplicated sense of political identity.

  • Natasha

    It will be a great shame if cynical national journalists end up depriving a disadvantaged constituency of a young MP with the drive, energy, commitment and political know how to champion its interests. If she possesses those qualities and can prove it to local people I’d say her relationship to you or anyone else is neither her nor there. Persuading the local party that you are the candidate for them is no easy task, and to have got as far as she has suggests she’s been putting the hours in and knows her own mind!

    It seems to me that this young woman risks being blown off course by arguments that should long ago have been buried. Have we learnt nothing from the Labour Party of the eighties and the Conservatives of the nineties and early noughties? Unity is everything – there are enough battles to be fought against our political foes and, more importantly, on behalf of the British people, without attacking one another. It’s not just that infighting turns off voters and gives the opposition an opportunity to manouevre – mostly it distracts us from developing the new ideas we’ll need to remain a credible party of Government.

    No one wants to join or vote for a circular firing squad.

  • Alan Quinn

    As someone involved in local Labour politics we need committed young people to get involved. The only downside is that we’ve all been quite comfortable for the last 11 Labour years.Many of us got involved in politics because the cruelty and indifference of Thatcher and her henchmen.

  • Rob Carr

    Good point, well made. It seems a lot of younger members/potential candidates get disparaged for their age. Frustrating for those of us who look to the party’s future beyond the next news cycle.

  • Chas

    Isn’t it awful when people spin against you? You would NEVER do that, would you?

  • Obnoxio The Clown

    Gosh, Al, I just can’t tell you how interesting that all wasn’t.

  • Jenny

    Brilliant – I hope Georgia overcomes the tired middle-aged men. Go Georgia!

  • Brian Wilmot

    It’s very encouraging to hear that there are high quality younger people ready and waiting to get into parliament. Political types talk a lot about involving young people in politics and then when a young person presents themself for duty the likes of Kevin Maguire conspire against them. Maguire is a peddler of trash. One of the best things about your New Statesman, Alistair, was that there was no Maguire in it. I think that should become a regular feature – a blank page, apart from : “Kevin Maguire is away/unwell/bitter/pissed/more bitter/more pissed”

  • Jamie

    I agree – it is our job, as the older, more experienced hands, to guide and nurture this talent; not hack it down every time someone younger than us puts their head above the parapet.

    Even as an active Tory, I welcome Georgia’s involvement in politics. I relish the spectacle of watching our bright young things take on those from other parties, indeed I would argue that the future prosperity of the country relies on both Labour and Conservative (Lib who?) parties having the very best people in parliament. The last thing we need is an elected house full of drones – the House of Lords does that job quite well enough!