Greasy Pole: Labour Pains
Emerging from the dust of defeat … ‘We are an army bruised, beaten, bewildered… Ed Miliband’s leadership reinvigorated long-term activists and inspired a new generation of campaigners alike, restoring a sense of hope that Labour could be a party to not only change governments but also change lives…’ But then… ‘We cannot pretend we won the popular vote, more people chose the Conservatives over us’. But a month later, in less incendiary mood, a piece in The Guardian cast doubt on the effectiveness of the six million doorstep ‘conversations’ so valued by Miliband as evidence of the party’s superior ground view: ‘Five and a half million of them could have been ”can you go away please, I’ve got the washing on?” ‘. So why the change of emphasis? Stella Creasy – who was of interest to The Greasy Pole a couple of years ago – has announced herself, after only five years on the Back Benches, as a candidate for Deputy Leader of the beaten and bewildered party. She is up against some serious, hardened opposition – for example Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Caroline Flint, all of them carrying bruises from similar defeat and confusion in the past.
Creasy came into Parliament in the 2010 election, the MP for Walthamstow. In a pretty tough London constituency like that it must have helped that her parents are stolidly Labour but not that she has an aristocratic background – on her mother’s side the Earl of Carlisle, the Cayzers and the Viscount Gort. In her education she had to overcome a less than promising start; at a posh all-girl grammar school she failed her Eleven Plus and, perhaps to demonstrate her blossoming reputation as a rebel, was ejected from an assembly when, in defiance of the school’s navy blue uniform, she flaunted red socks. When her family moved to another area she began to demonstrate her abilities and after Cambridge took a PhD at the London School of Economics on Understanding the Lifeworld of Social Exclusion – an intriguing title in contrast with her subsequent career in justifying and tolerating the social exclusion and pressures typical of capitalism’s class divide. Before she made it as an MP she worked among other things writing speeches for some tediously disciplined Blair ministers such as Charles Clarke and Douglas Alexander – one of Labour’s casualties in Scotland who recently assessed Creasy as ‘…clearly reimagining the work of an MP… I see her as a genuine pioneer of a new way of doing politics’. Which might have been more impressive as a compliment if Alexander had himself shown so novel a tendency.
Meanwhile Creasy displayed a persistent talent for reaching into the limelight. At first disappointed at being overlooked for a place as a Shadow Minister she filled the gaps in her publicity by taking the lead in a number of media-alluring campaigns. There was the matter of demanding, with the journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, that in the name of equal rights an issue of new bank notes should display the portrait of a woman – which was settled when the Bank of England agreed to use the image of Jane Austen. But a side effect of this was to reveal the existence of some equally passionate people on the other side of the question; Creasy and Criado-Perez were subjected to a virulent stream of abuse and threats of rape and other violence, for which a man was recently sent to prison for four months. Creasy has also turned her attention to the scandal of Pay Day Loans, which have often been the last resort of people driven to desperation by the extremities of impoverishment through unemployment, zero-hour jobs and the like. This is indeed a fertile field of profit; in some cases borrowers have had to repay loans at an interest rate of 272 percent APR and, in the absence of competition, as much as 4000 percent. A leading light in this pitiless application of the profit motive is Wonga and their noxiously provocative TV promotion. Under pressure, Wonga tried to navigate themselves through a climb-down which involved nothing better than a promise to ease the plight of some of the worst affected of their victims.
Up – or rather down – there with Wonga and the like are the estate agents, who are also revelling in the stress suffered by the victims of the recession. In Walthamstow Creasy organised a local survey of the estate agents and their treatment of borrowers. The result was striking: one firm came out high on approval rating while another was at the very lowest end of the scale. Creasy’s response was to visit the office of this last firm and publicly berate them for their relentless pressure on local people who were struggling to afford to buy a property. The firm concerned could only plead that they are the largest in the area, on the assumption that this was a sound argument for their ruthless policy and that the most favoured agent was just a beginner who will soon fall into the same practices as the rest – because that is what making profit is all about. This campaign has met with the approval of the Walthamstow voters, who at the last election increased Creasy’s majority to 23,195. But meanwhile the chaos and despair in the Labour Party acts as a fertiliser for ambitions to inherit what historically remains after Miliband, Gordon Brown, Blair, Callaghan and their failure to modify the inexorable brutalities of the capitalist system. But Creasy is not ready to give up even though she has to endure life towards the lower end of the Greasy Pole. In this she has not always been as popular as she might have planned. ‘Now she’s a public figure and there’s a party line she has to toe’ was the opinion of a friend. ‘She cares about her constituents but she cares about herself more’ said a party member, and ‘Since when has Stella been interested in the fucking Post Office?’ asked a Tory Member after listening to one of her verbal barrages on that subject. Other opinions were: ‘pushing too hard…haranguing…too big for her boots’. Within the Commons she has earned two nicknames: there is St Ella to match her adopted pious style and, noting how futile it has been among all those others so desperate to somehow slither upwards, Stella Greasy.