In 1861 Dickens commented "The village street was like most other village streets: wide for its height, silent for its size, and drowsy in the dullest degree. The quietest little dwellings with the largest of window-shutters to shut up nothing as if it were the Mint or the Bank of England."Not unlike most of you, so many times in the past, I've gotten up early for things that have proved quite underwhelming and disappointing personally, and I wondered the night before if this was going to just be the latest such incident.
For instance, in my own case, in the mid-'80's, when I lived in Evanston and Wilmette, just north of Chicago, right off Lake Michigan, I once caught the first "El" train of the morning to meet a friend of mine at O'Hare who was on lay-over for a few hours for her flight to Europe, but she was so tired from her late-night flight from the West Coast that she was barely awake while we had the Tartan Tray restaurant at O'Hare pretty much to ourselves, almost like it was a VIP suite.
(I used to know the layout of O'Hare like the back of my hand for it was easier to navigate than my own neighborhood, since once you knew the basic parameters, it was easy to get around, even logical, a far cry from MIA when I was using that so often in the '70's and '80's. I especially loved the Tartan Tray restaurant because they were always friendly, delicious and safe after midnight, with very reasonable prices for an airport vendor. Plus, the radio reception there was among the best in the entire airport, even if you weren't near a window.)
So getting back to Thursday morning, not surprisingly, given how closely I follow what's going on in Great Britain, I've been closely following all the press stories and leaks surrounding the five candidates vying to succeed Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party, even as they fight for a job where they don't know exactly when Prime Minister David Cameron might call for a new general election and they will have to show their mettle during a 4-6 week window of a campaign: Andy Burnham, former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, his brother Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Diane Abbott.
Just as is often true in team sports, sometimes it's better to not be the guy who follows a certain head coach or manager but rather to be the one after that, where the legacy, good or bad, has dissipated enough so that you can be judged on your own relative merits.
See Vince Lombardi, Earl Weaver and Ara Parseghian.
Gordon Brown was the person who had the unenviable task of succeeding someone who had fundamentally changed the public perception of the British Labour Party, Tony Blair without ever having been voted in as PM himself, and he suffered greatly for it, not unlike Gerald Ford's presidential campaign in 1976.
Since Cameron's election, something I openly hoped for on this blog, I've read with great interest the stories in the British press, especially in The Times and The Telegraph, as well as those on BBC Radio 5 live and TV4 News, the various heartfelt and exasperating interviews with former Labour leadership personnel about how the longstanding personality clashes between the Blair and Brown wings of the party had caused continual friction and heartburn for many caught in-between in ways that had never been publicly known 'til recently.
There were always lots of rumors, but it turns out that where there was smoke there WAS, in fact, fire.
And at this debate, you'll hear plenty of very specific criticisms for how that party cleavage affected morale and political decisions during the last campaign.
This cleavage between the two wings was particularly problematic when it came time to have an agenda (manifesto) that could win in non-Labour strongholds.
Like the most liberal Democrats here in the Northeast U.S. and on the Left Coast, many Labour MPs have very safe constituencies that allow them to travel around the country stumping on behalf of the party and other candidates, with very little concern that they'll lose their own election because of all the natural institutional advantages they have, which have little, if anything, to do with them personally.
The best example of this in Florida is the dreaded Debbie Wasseman-Schultz for instance.
It's all very well and good for her to spout very liberal, reflexively pro-Obama nostrums since she doesn't run from an evenly remotely competitive district, but for those Dems who come from evenly divided congressional districts, or even Republican-leaning districts, like many of the DLC candidates I've mentioned here previously, it's not such an easy thing to simply vote with blinders on.
What made listening to this debate -and watching it via streaming- so fantastic was that the host, Victoria Derbyshire, was like a combination of the best of Ted Koppell and Charlie Rose, plus those rare great old moments on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," where politically astute pols of the late '60's and early '70's would eagerly
answer questions from Johnny that were either personally revealing or sometimes fraught with political danger, especially if you bombed and came across poorly, knowing the whole nation was watching.
Just like all young comics appearing on Carson for the first time, you desperately wanted Johnny's approval!
Johnny Carson, Rolling Stone 287, March 22, 1979,
Photo by Annie Leibovitz
I only read this article about 50 times when it first came out!
Derbyshire was masterful going from one candidate to another to elicit some intensely personal insight or political reflection to some often very difficult questions of a sort that you rarely if ever see on American TV, due to American pols reluctance to appear and 'let it all hang out' as it were. And she even got some of the candidates to personally call each other out in a way that you never see here publicly.
If you consider yourself even slightly a political activist or Anglophile or both and watch this video -available for viewing until Wednesday night U.K. time- you will get a first-class education into how to conduct a proper political debate that is both informative and lively, and something we should very much like to see more of on this side of the Atlantic.