Friday, July 01, 2005

The long road rightwards

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. While I was writing it Hoey became one of the 20 Labour MPs to vote against the government's identity card bill. So I need not be embarrassed by my liking for her.

A load of Hoey

Kate Hoey used to be that rare thing, a Trotskyite PE teacher. (“Touch all four walls and expound the principles of Permanent Revolution. Go!”)

Then, like many ultra-leftists, she realised things would go more smoothly if she recanted her early beliefs. So much so that in 1989 Labour HQ imposed her on Vauxhall as a moderate candidate.

Hoey later enjoyed a short spell as sports minister, and today is installed as a maverick backbencher. Calling someone a “maverick” at Westminster is often a polite way of saying they are self-indulgent and unreliable – it would be invidious to mention Clare Short in this context – but it is hard not to admire the sheer unfashionability of Hoey’s enthusiasms.

On Ireland she is a passionate Unionist. She supported Lembit Öpik’s Middle Way on hunting. And, valuably, she defended shooting as a sport in the face of the ban on handguns.

Another of her concerns is Zimbabwe, which she has twice visited incognito. On Monday she raised it in a question after Charles Clarke’s statement and later on in an adjournment debate she initiated.

Clarke repeated Tony Blair’s incredible line from his morning press conference. There have been “no substantiated reports of mistreatment” of anyone returned to Zimbabwe. Reading between the lines, the government message seemed to be that we should not worry too much about these people. The important thing is that Britain does not appear a soft touch to migrants.

It was in the adjournment debate that Hoey had her say. She reported Morgan Tsvangirai description of Mugabe’s policies as “Pol Pot in slow motion”.

She said people are “dying in order to get the message out of Zimbabwe, and to try to raise any international outrage”. And perhaps it easier for someone who is still, just about, of the left to accuse Western leaders as “choking on … a misplaced post-colonial guilt”.

Not every young socialist who takes the long road rightwards arrives in the same place as Hoey. Chris Mullin, once the sea-green incorruptible of the Bennites, found himself reduced to helping Clarke by suggesting “many Zimbabweans who came here as economic refugees turned into political refugees retrospectively”.

No young backbencher desperate for his first job as a bag-carrier could have been more crass or anxious to please.

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