Autobiography, Book review, Mark Seddon, Politics, Standing for Something

Standing for Something, Mark Seddon, 2011

This book is a curious combination of political biography and a rant against Blairism. As the former it is a mess; as the latter it is powerful and persuasive.

The political biography parts of the book, scattered throughout without any apparent structure whatsoever, whether chronological or otherwise, are written in a gossipy, laddish way, and consists almost entirely of anecdotes in which Seddon meets someone famous. These read like jotted down notes, and suffer greatly from lack of context – Seddon was largely an observer of events, rather than a participant. Even though he was a member of Labour’s NEC for eight years, he is the first to admit that during that period the NEC was neutered and largely irrelevant. His anecdotes are all quite slight, and have a half remembered vagueness that suggest he didn’t keep diaries.

But I don’t want to spend too long on what is wrong with this book, because when Seddon starts writing about the failures of the Blair/Brown coup of the Labour Party, and the political betrayals, some of which he clearly feels very personally, the book acquires an authenticity and passion. He has genuine insights into where Labour lost its way, and how it might recover its radical roots. For example:

My hunch is that Labour will eventually be re-radicalised in opposition. It won’t take long before the howls of anger and pain from those at the sharp end – Labour’s natural constituency – will be heard as the coalition cuts bite ever deeper. And this time the newly insecure and visibly more impoverished middle classes, those who work for less pay and pay more in taxation in an intended decade long Tory attempt to claw back the deficit, will become more and more angry. Whereas a quarter of a century ago it was working class jobs that were going in their hundreds of thousands, by the end of the first decade in the twenty-first century middle-class jobs had become increasingly casualised.” (251)

“And as the first decade of the twenty-first century ended it was fast becoming apparent that the ordinary people of these islands were being forced to pay in their jobs and taxes for the greed of the bankers, the industrialisation and pauperisation of an economy” (257)

Obviously this was written in 2011 or 12, long before the end of the coalition and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, but I am fairly sure I know who Seddon will be cheering on now, albeit from the New York sidelines.

P.S. I did say I wanted to avoid spending too long on the negatives, but I don’t at the same time want to self-censor. The editing of this book was really poor. Here’s one example:

‘Greeting Marra’ was his opening gambit before heading upstairs to plan our trip on an Eastern Counties double-decker bus to the sleepy Essex port of Wivenhoe, where coal was being landed. Our first outing as flying pickets, in an Eastern Counties double-decker bus, ended comically with us getting lost on the way…” (131/132)

Two sentences, both mentioning the same trip on the same bus, probably written a different times, and then stitched together without anyone noticing the repetition. This happens quite a bit. Also wearying was the staleness of some of the language:

“The expenses scandal crossed a new Rubicon“; “the icing on the cake was provided by the Murdoch media, which had managed to cast its baleful spell over the political class”; “Standing for Something finally opens the lid on the New Labour years, casting light into dark places“; all tired clichés from page 2 – on the following page “leading lights”, “warts and all”, “behind the scenes” (twice) and “rubber stamping” all jumped out, or rather limped out as I got increasingly frustrated with the important but poorly expressed thoughts Seddon or his editor were trying to convey. Of course look back through these blogs and you will find worse and more, but then I’m not a professional journalist, and don’t enjoy the benefits of an editor (except the occasional glance over the shoulder).