Letter from Wales: The Neil Kinnock interview pt 1 by Julian Ruck First pub. July 2014

I recently interviewed Lord Kinnock at the Angel Hotel, Cardiff and within minutes it was clear that his political passion and socialist instincts were well and truly intact. Indeed, his parting shot to me was, “Julian, what did you expect, I’m a bloody socialist!”

Not much to argue about there then.

Neil looked good. Trim, well preserved and still full of pulpit Welsh hwyl, as a couple of lady guests at the hotel were soon to comment. It was Neil’s deep Welsh brogue that seemed to send them into a swoon and as far as they were concerned, to hell with politics!

Anyway, the old war horse, never short of a word or two, was generous with his time. 1hr and 50 minutes to be precise, so readers of Uncut will understand that in order to do Neil and the interview justice, I have decided to break his observations and my take on them into two Letters.

So, let’s begin with Neil’s view on Ed Miliband:

“I’ve supported him from before day one……I said to him if David has got the guts to run against his brother who are you to back down? Ed showed nothing but courage in taking his brother on.”

As the interview progressed Neil’s loyalty to Labour’s leader became more explicit, and who can criticise loyalty, where would politics be without it?

“If you watch Ed closely and believe me I have, particularly when he is talking to the man in the street or grassroots, he is totally engaged; they get his full attention and interest. David now, he lacks people skills, for instance when talking with someone and whilst not intending to be discourteous, he scans the room to see if there is someone of greater significance. It’s a misfortune if anything, not a desperate character flaw, he’s a nice man.”

He went on:

“Ed is gutsy, brainy and as cool as hell. There’s all this stuff in the press, ‘Is Ed weird?’ Well, yes he’s weird, but then so was so was Churchill and Wilson, and Thatcher was the weirdest  of the lot.I guess leadership produces some ‘oddness!’ The press decided Ed wasn’t fit to fill his brother’s shoes and that was that, and the press just hates to be proved wrong, they honestly believe they should determine elections.

Look at Ed’s record over the last 4 years, actually make that 3 1/2 years , we conceded the first 6 months to the Tories to plant the mythology about ‘the mess that Labour had left the country in’, so they got that crucial 6 months of free play and I think that has done them more good than anybody anticipated.

In these four years Ed has shown immense courage in not only taking on his own brother against the odds, but also in taking on big targets, out of absolute sincerity. Murdoch, Energy, banks, predatory capitalism and he has done it without fear or favour. He’s the guy who by ensuring that the Labour party didn’t vote for military intervention in Syria had the courage to keep us out of what would have been a desperate quagmire of further military engagement. This took sheer guts and the application of intelligence.

The way he was scorned, initially, with “the squeezed middle”,” the British promise”,” one nation”, all these phrases when he first used them and explained what he meant by them, were derided but within months, if not weeks in some cases, became part of the political context.”

JR: “Yes but there is one big flaw in what you say. What about the voters views of Ed? Or the mass mind, if you like?”

NK: “His flaws are manufactured, caricatured. The press is focused on destruction which certainly compares, if not exceeds, my own experience and I don’t say this with whining complaint but,objectively examined, this is certainly demonstrated to be the case.

So, what does he do to address this?

Ed unlike Churchill, isn’t a drunk, he’s not a megalomaniac either. He won’t go off the political rails like Tony Blair. He’s brave, he’s brainy and he’s measured. He has terrific resilience and you want that in a leader.

In a changing world you don’t want somebody who is going to wave his arms around on the bridge when he can see the storm coming. Now you just compare Cameron, whose stock in trade is to appease rather than confront anyone who challenges him in the Conservative party and who is always looking for a  head line when we need a strategy. His serial appeasements have got us into a position where our future is a lot more fragile than it should be.

You’ll never get this from Ed Miliband because he’s just too steady. That’s what must get through to the public.”

On Europe?

No room for debate here. Neil is all for being ‘in’ for practical economic and political reasons and that’s that – “there’s no such thing as ‘outfluence’ so how can we reform from an empty chair?”. He did pass on one little titbit.

“Conclusions of European Council meeting (26/27 June 2014):

‘As one of the fundamental freedoms of the European Union, the right of EU citizens to move freely and reside and work in other Member States, needs to be protected, including from possible misuse or fraudulent claims.’

So much for David Cameron’s plans to re-negotiate the rules on freedom of movement.

To conclude then, this writer must observe that cynicism is the artful dodger of political sincerity. Neil had some points to make and he was going to make them.

The consummate politician, now and again during the interview I felt there was lack of boldness in respect of Welsh politics, loyalty again no doubt and these matters will be explored in another Letter. Neil is a Tredegar boy and certainly hasn’t forgotten his roots, but I remain unconvinced as to whether this is a good thing in an age of 21st century middle ground and indeed ‘middling’ election victory.

I detected more of Nye Bevan than Tony Blair!

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