WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE

Tribune leader, 8 November 1991

Whether he fell, jumped or was pushed from his yacht, Robert Maxwell is dead. Few in the Labour movement will mourn him, although many will claim to. He was never a popular figure during his brief period as Labour MP for Buckingham in the six­ties, and he made few friends as a businessman.
Yet many Labour politicians felt that they simply had to get on with him. From 1984, he was the megalomaniac hands-on proprietor of the Daily Mirror and its Sunday and Scottish sister papers – and the Mirror, Britain’s second most-popular newspaper, was Labour’s only friend on Fleet Street. The  politicians believed that Maxwell, accountable to no one, could make or break Labour and they acted accordingly: they crawled.
How far this affected Labour policy is arguable. But Labour would certainly have moved to the right dur­ing the eighties more slowly without the weight of Maxwell pulling it in that direction. And some felt that the influence of his uncritical enthusiasm for Israel on Labour’s Middle East policy was considerable.
Labour is now watching nervously as the fate of Mir­ror Group Newspapers, 51 per cent of which is owned by the Maxwell family, is decided. The assumption is that Ian Maxwell, the deputy chairman until his fa­ther’s death, will continue the newspapers’ backing for Labour, but no one is sure. There is even speculation that the Maxwell empire’s debt problems will force the sale of the family’s share, perhaps to a Tory press baron, thus eliminating support for Labour from the popular press. This very possibility should stiffen Labour resolve to legislate to ensure press pluralism as soon as it comes to office.
Uneasy with Europe
The enthusiasm for Europe currently being shown by Labour stops well short of embracing the creation of a democratic federal European government, either chosen by direct election of a president or drawn from the European Parliament by a prime minister who is also an MEP.
The reasons for this are multiple. In the short term, there is no doubt that Labour’s position is a simple matter of electoral opportunism: avoiding an explicit commitment to democratic European government avoids a damaging split in the party and does not frighten those of the party’s older supporters who dis­like foreigners and believe that Britannia still rules the waves.
At a deeper level, Labour’s leaders are all politi­cians who decided to make Westminster the focus of their political careers in the belief that the government of Britain was what really mattered. They are ill at ease with Europe and know that embracing the goal of democratic European federal government would amount to an admission that they were wrong – some­thing politicians hate doing. Far better for them to pre­tend that an ill-defined greater role for the Council of Ministers and other ministerial forums, along with a small increase in the powers of the European Parlia­ment, would suffice to keep the EC democratically ac­countable after economic and political union.
In reality, Labour’s current proposals involve en­dorsement of plans to give more power to Brussels bu­reaucrats with only the scantest thought about how to make them more answerable to the people whose lives their decisions will affect. They are wholly inadequate if Labour really means to “democratise” the EC. If its rhetoric is to be taken seriously, sooner or later Labour will have to come out in favour of a democratically ac­countable federal European government.
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