The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

ILLTYD HARRINGTON: The politicians, I’m afraid, are not to be seen

    Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg

    Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg

    Published: 12 May, 2015

    WATCHING somebody die and lie at the same time is a distressing experience. Take, for instance, the brazen face of Liberal leaders condemning Tory attacks on the welfare state, which they after all took part in implementing. 

    Just the latest example of those who speak with forked tongue. It reminds me of London criminals, when confronted with an unanswerable case, who swore: “On my baby’s eyes, guv’nor.” 

    The criminal classes in extremis at least are honest. Watching Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander shows how superb they are at concealing their enthusiasm for cuts, as if they did not know what was going on. Only Molière, the French playwright, could write the script. These are public hypocrites. 

    At the same time as the general election the replacement of local authorities goes on unnoticed. 

    The pundits have forgotten this other parallel election. Even more worrying and significant is the news that over 50 per cent of vacant council seats will not be contested. So it should be easy to get onto the local council. 

    Nobody wants to know why. 

    While local government has a decreasing ability to initiate local programmes few parliamentarians have ever had any knowledge of the town hall. 

    The Tory Party is now tempted to impose a new form of local government in Manchester, where community health care services are being blended with local government. Otherwise the main parties, luxuriating in their ignorance of local government, have shown marginal interest. 

    After 42 years in municipal affairs I am well aware that if you scatter about a few knighthoods and CBEs many Labour leaders will condone it. 

    In my youth a local by-election was fought in a manner akin to Christians facing the lions in the Colosseum. One candidate proclaimed in an explosive leaflet: “The eyes of the world are on Penydarren.” 

    One consolation after watching David Cameron and George Osborne, posing as bricklayers and plumbers, is that they may be classified as jobsworths. 

    Elsewhere there is a nobility and humanity, often smothered by the commercialism and advertising techniques which have replaced fundamental belief. 

    This well of humanity was very evident in the days after the Nepal earthquake – £20million was raised immediately by British people despite all the other charities’ continuing demands. 

    Twice in my life I have been at local disasters. 

    In 1966 a massive slag tip, ignored by the National Coal Board, rolled down onto a school in Aberfan. Two of the 144 dead were distant cousins’ children and a teacher was someone I went to school with. The event triggered off worldwide, practical compassion. 

    In 1975 I had to visit officially to sort out administrative problems after the Moorgate tube crash. 

    The amazing determination and courage of very young London firefighters, looking at this appalling loss of life, left me feeling very chastened. 

    The electronic pole that is being used to detect life beneath tons of debris in Nepal was in fact perfected by the Greater London Council’s  fire department. That indicates, I think, the degree to which people want to help when there is great tragedy. 

    The politicians, I’m afraid, are not to be seen. This great idealism has not been tapped, particularly among the young. Socialists and liberals used to sing a hymn called The Brotherhood of Man. 

    I gave up active politics because of the iniquitous nature of Blair’s war. 

    And with a degree of modesty I remember shocking my college tutor by writing an account of William Ewart Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign, when the former prime minister, put himself forward and won at the 1880 election. 

    Among his political arguments was to condemn the behaviour and brutality of the Turks against the Armenians. 

    I look in vain at the lack of vision among those who want to enter parliament and for any degree of similar principled courage.