The occasions when Kelvin MacKenzie needs to shut up and go away are manifold and numerous, and usually it can be assumed that he’s an odious man who should be ignored. But sometimes it just has to be said aloud.
For example, his latest outburst. Kelvin, that famed master of tact and diplomacy, thinks that the south east of England and London do all the work and are carrying the rest of the country, and that someone – he’s a right-winger, writing in the Telegraph; I think it’s safe to assume he means the unreconstructed Tory backbenches – should put the interests of him and his before the country as a whole.
Now, I have many reasons to loathe MacKenzie. As a northerner. As a Liverpool FC fan. As a sane, compassionate human being. And here is no exception. But as well as the obvious sources of outrage, there are some important lessons here for Labour supporters, if we’re willing to look and to learn.
The “One Nation” concept is still undergoing its formative period, but already it is resonating with the country. And it helps that Labour is the only political party which can claim to represent the whole nation. The Conservatives are the party of the south, and don’t exist in any meaningful form in Scotland. The Lib Dems are heading towards not existing in any meaningful form at all. And now the likes of MacKenzie want the focus to narrow even closer onto the people who, honestly, have done the best out of the boom times and apparently the bust.
The irony is that I’m writing this from, erm, the south east.
The reason that I’m here, however, is because for the last thirty years – and probably longer – the exclusive economic focus of successive governments has been on London and the south east. Or at least that’s what it feels like to people living outside those areas. My family moved when I was sixteen because my father was working constantly in the south east. Decades of policy has turned the area into a magnet, drawing talented people out of other areas by the sheer necessity to earn a living.
If MacKenzie was advocating more localised governance — regional assemblies, anyone? – I might have time for it. But he isn’t. He’s calling for further privilege for an already privileged area, a national party – and thus government – which neglects the majority of its people in favour of a self-appointed elite.
Of course the south-east is important. If we want a Labour government in 2015 we have to regain support, votes and seats there. But to pretend that one region is all important or that it somehow carries the rest of the country, is a road to division, social strife, and ultimately disaster.
One Nation, at its core, is a way around this. If we can move forward as a single discrete entity, then we might actually stand a chance of getting out of the economic hole we’re stuck in. People like MacKenzie, reflected in the government’s us-and-them line on welfare and disability benefits, would play different parts of a society they don’t believe exists against each other for their own gain. This outburst is a reminder to the Labour Party of why the One Nation project is important, and why we must make it succeed.