I know many of you can’t access articles behind The Times’ paywall, but they asked me to explain what drove me to take the fight to Michael Fallon on the Marr programme yesterday, and below is the article I have written for them.
It’s a lot to do with my upbringing and the way I’ve always believed in standing up to bullies, and it’s also the fact that – when you’re confronted with an opponent who trades in lies and hypocrisy – the only thing you can do is expose them for what they are.
I hope you enjoy the article, and please as ever let me know your thoughts.
When I was growing up in Guildford, I discovered a hole in the fence at the bottom of the playground at my secondary modern. If I climbed out, I could walk over some wasteland that backed on to our estate, and I was home fifteen minutes quicker than if I left by the school gate.
There was only one problem. This was also where the school’s biggest girl gang liked to hang out, and nine times out of ten, I’d have to run the gauntlet past them on my short-cut home.
Usually, the abuse was just verbal but occasionally I’d get back to my mum and brothers with a few clumps of hair pulled out, and some scratches and bruises where fists or kicks had landed. But without fail, the next day, I’d still be climbing through that hole in the fence at 3.30pm and taking my chances.
I wasn’t a glutton for punishment. I just couldn’t bear the idea of going the long way round, feeling like a coward, and knowing the bullies had got the better of me. So I stuck it out.
I’ve always taken that same approach in politics, and believe me, the level of bullying in Westminster can sometimes make that gang at school look like the Hare Krishnas. But I’ll always try and stand up to it, just like I did when I was a scrappy teenager.
And that gut reaction to fight back rather than run away is what snapped in me yesterday on the Andrew Marr show when I found myself up against Michael Fallon.
Michael prides himself on being the Tories’ lead attack dog. Throughout the 2015 election, if Labour had a good announcement to make, Michael would be unleashed to bark some gratuitous personal abuse at Ed Miliband just to distract the attention of the media. And he’s performing exactly the same role, with even more ferocity, in this election.
Labour could cry foul about the tactics, but this is a game without a referee. We could get down in the gutter and launch our own personal attacks, as New Labour spin-doctors all too often did in the past, but that is something Jeremy Corbyn won’t tolerate, and I admire him for that.
Or we could do what I did yesterday and point out the hypocrisy of Fallon and his fellow attack dogs, shaming them for their double standards. And let’s be clear, when it comes to exposing the two-faced nature of Michael’s recent charges against Labour, we are spoilt for choice.
When he claims the Tories are as committed as Labour to tackling tax avoidance, we could point out that he was the director in charge of pay and bonuses at the Tullett Prebon brokerage in 2009, when they publicly announced they would help staff relocate overseas to avoid Labour’s bonus tax.
When he claims Labour is unpatriotic when it comes to our armed forces, we could question the patriotism in putting our brave servicemen and women in harm’s way in Syria when there is no strategy to get them out again, and when there are still diplomatic options left to pursue.
And when he questions why Jeremy Corbyn was meeting Irish nationalists 34 years ago in an effort to broker peace in Ulster, and says that doing so makes him soft on terrorists, we could ask – as I did yesterday – about Michael’s visit to Damascus less than ten years ago to celebrate Bashar Assad’s re-election, and whether, by his own standards, that makes him soft on tyrants.
But there is one other hypocrisy which matters more than all of these others in terms of the choice the voters face on 8 June.
Michael Fallon routinely says that Labour’s sums don’t add up and that we can’t pay for our spending commitments. And yet yesterday, on both the armed forces and social housing, he could not say where a single penny of new money would come from to fund the Tory pledges, falling back on the old chestnut that the proceeds of growth and mythical efficiency savings will provide the booty.
Where Labour is prepared to list line-by-line each of our spending commitments, say exactly how they will be paid for, and take the hit from certain quarters over the taxes we intend to raise to do so, the Tories just continue to ignore the funding gap for their own promises, and tell the bare-faced lie that they have “no plans” to fill it by raising National Insurance.
No wonder Fallon and his Treasury colleagues have refused to let the independent Office of Budget Responsibility conduct an official audit of both the Labour and Tory manifestos in order to tell the British people which party’s sums truly add up.
Instead, their tactics are clear: keep slinging mud at Jeremy Corbyn; tell people it’s unpatriotic and dangerous to vote Labour; make popular promises that they cannot afford and will never deliver; smack down any critics; and hope that any real scrutiny of the facts, the policies and their record gets buried until they’ve secured another five years in power.
It’s both a shameful and a shameless way to do politics; it’s Michael Fallon all over; and, with just three weeks to go, it’s high time the Labour Party started biting back.