The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

ILLTYD HARRINGTON: To the leaders – get the catwalk over

    Marcelle Kellermann, a hero of the French Resistance, with husband Walter

    Marcelle Kellermann, a hero of the French Resistance, with husband Walter

    Published: 23 June, 2015

    I AM not a “hard working family”or indeed a voter in Labour’s leadership election, but I am one of the nine million who voted Labour at the general election. 

    I too have an opinion. Perhaps the losers should have waited and given theirs. Two of the four candidates bear a mark, not that of Cain but certainly that of Blair. Who now admits to supporting Blair and Bush in their war, which has continued to bring death and suffering to so many? 

    The only one who has been consistent is Jeremy Corbyn, a man who never allows expediency to influence his personal preferences. Ambition, as Shakespeare said, should be made of sterner stuff, but you can’t buy honesty. 

    For myself, someone who played a part in Labour for 60 years, the hustings reminded me of Madison Avenue techniques from the 1960s. They could have been selling toothpaste, all neat and tidy behind a table, with only Jeremy as a voice of dissent. 

    How immaculate the women were – more Prada than Pravda, undaunted it seems by the long road ahead. 

    One Labour MP described it as a “trip to the greyhound track”. Come the autumn all will be revealed. Meanwhile the Tory whippet has gone round the circuit while others are waiting to be sanctified by the Palace of Westminster.

    I can’t help thinking of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, only that sounds too prophetic. 

    Labour cannot find a Joan of Arc. Napoleon shot to fame at the age of 23, saved the Republic of France and took the spirit of the Revolution through Europe. Though in the end he went the way of all flesh and made himself Emperor. 

    The topic of leadership brings me to the role, accomplishments and modesty of many women. 

    Last week this newspaper carried the absorbing obituary of Marcelle Kellermann who died at 96 and, truthfully, can be described as a hero of the French Resistance. She faced and confronted treachery, hostility and fear. 

    Then last week, police were called to a sedate part of Twickenham to a house formerly occupied by a quintessential English matron. Let’s call her Beatrice, known to her neighbours as shy, retiring and sadly a victim of Alzheimer’s for 30 years. In her home, police found a sub-machine gun. She had been a hit-woman for the Resistance. Beatrice had known what direct confrontation with the Gestapo and SS was like. It was a life of enormous commitment. She neither sought nor was given public acclamation, but that is the stuff of leadership. 

    Recently I learnt that one of my former neighbours, a mild, quietly-spoken, Welsh woman, had run a safe house in wartime Bordeaux, and transmitted intelligence at great risk. She married a Frenchman and spoke impeccable French. I met her as a frail old lady. I went to see her one morning with a glass of wine and interrupted her giving a lecture to 12 young men. Later she confided in me that they were entering MI6. And then there was Joan, well into her 80s. Frequently I brought her back from the bus stop. She too suffered from dementia. Softly spoken, but still with a powerful presence, she had been Clement Attlee’s chief private secretary. I doubt whether any Nazi intimidation would have broken her. 

    Labour used to be the university of the working class.

    It produced its best leaders from the working class because they came with their beliefs and organisational skills. 

    Sadly even the new definition of working class in 2015 disqualifies so many of us. Oxford and Cambridge still have a disproportionate advantage in getting pole position for supplying leaders. Years of consensual politics are being broken. We see attacks on the welfare state and the poor, are mystified by the gobbledegook of the deficit, and we are bracing ourselves for another round of austerity. 

    To the leaders – get the catwalk over. Our enemy has broken into the citadel. 

    Do you need look any further than the outrageous attempt to substitute our education system with free schools? Enjoy your moment of vanity and fame, but come clean. How are you going to attack this dangerous animal which has been let loose for another five years? 

    Piety and pomposity will not work against their destructive philosophy. I commend the Methodist hymn: “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us 

    O’er the world’s tempestuous sea…”