It strikes me as faintly amusing, even ironic, that the first three names out of the hat to be the next leader of the Labour Party belong to a knight of the realm, the titled wife of a High Court judge and a woman with a double-barrelled name that sounds like something from the Tory shires.
They are Sir Keir Starmer, Lady Nugee (otherwise known as Emily Thornbury) and Rebecca Roseanne Long-Bailey, daughter of a trade unionist and a member of the hard Left, the favourite of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
A key question is going to be: what effect will the men who led the party to its worst defeat since 1935 have on the selection of their replacement? The signs are not good. Corbyn hasn’t even resigned yet and shows no sign of doing so until a new leader is elected.
He and other senior party figures appear to be in denial. They insist that Brexit distorted the result and their policies were popular. Popular, perhaps, among party radicals, but emphatically rejected by the voters. Their attitude reminds me of the doctor who said that the operation went well, but unfortunately the patient died.
It doesn’t seem to have sunk in that the party has to move to the centre if it is to have any hope of ever regaining power. Labour MPs certainly gave Corbyn a hard time, blaming him personally for the party’s rejection by people who had previously voted for it all their life. I was pleased that the voters had the sense to see through Corbyn, a 1970s throwback, a Marxist class warrior, an IRA sympathiser, a protector of anti-Semites and a man who appeared to hate his own country.
But it won’t be enough to change the leader if the new one is cut from the same cloth. This isn’t just important for the Labour Party, but for the country, whose democratic health depends on having an effective Opposition that can hold Boris Johnson to account. I grew tired of hearing Labour and Lib-Dem losers shedding crocodile tears for the poor people of Britain who will have to suffer under Boris for the next five years. I wanted to cry out: “This only happened because you and your parties failed offer the voters a credible alternative.”
Whether Labour can cobble together a credible alternative over the next five years seems doubtful. After the disastrous invasion of Iraq and the subsequent enrichment of his bank balance, Tony Blair is not the most popular figure in British politics and remains a demonic figure to Labour. But the party should listen to him when he says they are “marooned on a fantasy island” and doomed to “15 years more of Tory government” unless they return to the centre ground. After all, he won three general elections in a row while standing on it.
Hanging, treason and cricket
When I read that Pervez Musharraf, the General who became President of Pakistan in an Army coup, had been sentenced to be hanged for treason for perverting the constitution – and that if he died before the sentence could be carried out his corpse should be strung up for three days in the main square of Islamabad – my mind went back more than a decade ago to the time I interviewed him.
The interview was for a Washington TV news channel and the security checks before meeting him were the longest and most thorough I have ever known as the cameras and microphones were stripped down to their parts and the whole crew and myself were subject to intrusive examination.
When, finally, we reached the room where the interview was to take place, we found the President waiting for us. He sat strumming his fingers impatiently while the lights and cameras were prepared. Rather embarrassed by keeping him waiting, I leaned forward to speak to him.
“We British owe you an apology,” I said. “Do you mean for colonialism?” he replied.
“No,” I said, “for giving your captain out lbw in the cricket yesterday.” “You are absolutely right,” he said eagerly, “and he wasn’t the only one given out through a bad decision.”
I had obviously struck the right chord. Musharraf had been a keen sportsman in his youth and warmed to my theme. When I told him that I had been a member of the MCC Committee, he showed some respect and I could sense that we would get on pretty well.
So when the interview began, I threw him a googly: “Has Pakistan ever been a democracy?” He answered candidly: “No, but we have had some civilian governments.”
It was a strange and rather dangerous time to be in Pakistan. I had to have an armed escort even to go shopping. No alcohol was served in the hotel. When I complained about this deprivation to an American businessman, he said: “You can actually get a drink, but you have to admit being an alcoholic.”
So I summoned the manager and said I had to have a drink because my doctor said I might die if I didn’t have one every day. He looked at me rather sceptically, then produced a form he had brought with him. When I signed the form to say that I was an alcoholic, he asked me what I wanted, I asked for five gin and tonics, then summoned the TV crew round to share them. When they arrived, they stared first in wonder at the drinks and then in even greater wonder at me. I have never been so popular.
I don’t think Musharraf will be hanged. The sentence was a reprisal by judges from the time he had them arrested in 2007. The Army is very angry about the sentence and the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has protested that Musharraf was tried in his absence without the chance to offer any defence. Besides, the former Test cricketer probably didn’t like the precedent of a former leader being hanged.
Musharaff is said to be very ill in hospital in Dubai and is unlikely to volunteer to return to face the music. I expect his TV in Dubai is tuned to the cricket.