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
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
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
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?