Why I Love John O’Farrell (I think)

by Ray_North on February 14, 2013

Unknown-1It’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve decided to profess my love for a man I’ve never met – which as a straight bloke, not normally disposed to romantic frolics, is a bit weird. But, before my wife, or indeed Mr O’Farrell himself becomes concerned, let me explain that my love is not of the ‘ooh get your kit off variety,’ but expressed more in the political hope that you, John O’Farrell, can be part of a new political culture.

So let’s start at the beginning. A few days ago, I received a standard e-mail request from an old Lib-Dem mate of mine, who despite currently being in a political place that is so dark and confused it makes Kabul look like Legoland, is still someone I have a certain amount of personal affection for (ok, it was Simon Hughes). In the e-mail he invited me to attend an away day in Eastleigh for Lib-Dem supporters, before outlining some blurb about how the Lib-Dems had helped bring thousands of people out of the tax bracket and how we needed to remind the people of Eastleigh about this.

Now, putting aside the fact that I no longer and haven’t for some time described myself in any way a ‘Lib-Dem supporter’ – it brought home to me just how awful the current state of British politics is, and how sorry I felt for the poor people of Eastleigh who are about to be set upon by thousands of political activists from all sides who will fling misinformation and nonsense down upon their doorsteps.

The Tories will tell them that they’ve been making the tough decisions but it is all working; the Lib-Dems will tell them that if it wasn’t for them, the decisions of the Tories would have been even worse – but in any event it is working; UKIP will blame Europe; and Labour will sit quietly to one side and laugh as the coalition partners blame eachother, knowing that their safest course of action is to say as little as possible.

It is tragically the way of modern politics. Any policy decisions are almost always cosmetic, any moral fury is almost always contrived. When I was working in Westminster the aim was always to say enough to get you a slot on the news headlines or a few columns in the daily’s but nothing that will be so contentious that it might jeopardise the potential votes of swing voters. I have no doubt that the strategy followed by my colleagues within Labour and the Conservative Party was the same.

Since leaving politics I am convinced that that political atrophy led to the accepted belief among all parties in the economic and political orthodoxy that has led to a collapse in our economies and an increase in social inequality.

Which brings me to the object of my Valentine’s Day affection – John O’Farrell. As I said earlier, I’ve never met the man, but I have read some of what he has written in the past and since he became the candidate for Eastleigh. I am not so naive as to think that Mr O’Farrell is about to singlehandedly transform the mess that is our political culture, nor do I expect Labour to fight some kind of wonderfully enlightened campaign that strikes to the heart of everything that is wrong in our society – but, John O’Farrell is a man who is clearly different to the usual suspects that we get in by-elections and, increasingly filling the green benches of the House of Commons – he gives the impression of being genuinely witty, clever, honest and caring.

Upon being selected as the Labour candidate, he immediately declared that his first aim was to ‘go to the pub,’ then apologised the next day for breaking that promise (contrast with the anodyne utterances of the local Tory candidate who banged on, in a worthy yet predictable way about being the local candidate). He is a professed and dedicated believer in the importance of state education and, as he showed in his seminal book ‘Things Can Only Get Better,’ and in his genius sideswipe about One Nation Labourism, which he said he couldn’t say without thinking of the 1978 hit ‘One Nation Under A Groove,’ he has a healthy disregard for the ‘party machine’. He hints that he accepts that the problems with our society go far beyond a little macro-economic dabbling.

And of course, he has pretty much no chance of winning.

John O’Farrell, therefore, is in a perfect position to ‘make a difference’ (sorry, the worst and most overused phrase in the world), during the Eastleigh by-election. Over the next few weeks, when he speaks, the press will listen to him and the other parties will be forced to respond. He has the chance to say what others would not dare, he has the chance to expose some of the bullshit that surrounds our political culture. He has the opportunity to be more than just the Labour candidate spouting the platitudes expected of him and actually force the debate into something more meaningful.

Of course, some in his own party and, indeed the other parties, will try to stop this – they would all rather have a dirty fight (which they understand) than a meaningful one where political absolutes are challenged – but, if John O’Farrell can rise to the occasion, then he could help shape the political debate up to the next general election and beyond and that is the challenge for him.

On St Valentine’s Day then, and not for the first time, I declare my love more in hope than expectation – but if he can help raise the standard of the Eastleigh by-election above the stupefying nonsense that is modern politics, then I will send him a box of chocolates and maybe even a balloon.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Eddie Kaye February 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

So me following him on twitter once I found out he was standing for a seat 250 miles away from where I live was not just idle curiosity. Judging by his tweets so far, it is going to be an entertaining couple of weeks.

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Mike Killingworth February 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm

What I’m curious about is why should a 50-year-old with a successful career elsewhere suddenly want to fight a by-election in a hopeless seat? Has Ed Miliband promised him a peerage? I think we should be told.

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Ray_North February 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Oh Mike – you are such a cynic – there’s me trying to spread love and hope!

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