New Forest East



By Bernard Levin

The Times – 7 May 1992

Shakespeare had a word for it: ''Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend''. But surely, the instance of ingratitude I propose to discuss today is so splendidly cruel, so deliciously apposite, so gloriously deserved, that it would melt marble into laughter.

The Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, Mr Robert Parry, was visiting China with a group of like-minded European comrades, and went to Tiananmen Square, where they unfurled a banner promoting the cause of trade unions. Now trade unions are unknown in China, not least because anyone trying to start one will be in a prison camp before he can say "Scarg–", let alone ''I move the reference back'', and Mr Parry, together with his companions, was at once arrested. Following this interesting event, he was interrogated for four hours, spent the night watched over by armed guards, and was deported at dawn. But where, you ask, does the ingratitude come in? For the answer, you must wait while I turn to a splendid document, compiled by Conservative Central Office for use in the recent general election, entitled Who's Left? and sub-titled ''An Index of Labour MPs and Left-Wing causes 1985-1992''. The book analyses the words and actions of no fewer than 181 Labour MPs who were standing for election again.

Each of the MPs has a section to himself or herself, and each section consists of a detailed, meticulously sourced catalogue of the left-wing causes, speeches, affiliations, parliamentary votes and suchlike for which the MP is responsible.

It is, of course, impossible to define ''leftwingness'' exactly – one man's Marx is another man's Martin Jacques – but some adherences, it has to be said, ought to have precluded the holder from membership of any democratic political party.

In the search for a method of ranking the MPs in some kind of order of leftitude, the compilers hit upon an ingenious solution. They listed 17 undoubtedly left-wing causes, obviously chosen for their daftness or at least luridness, and then sought out and classified each MP by the number of these flypapers he or she willingly got stuck to.

It is, I think, worth listing all the causes. Naturally, some of them are more extreme than others, but the validity of the test is inescapable with as many as 17 arraignments. Before I recite the entire set, I should make clear that there is no question of raking up beliefs from decades ago and long abandoned; virtually nothing dates from before 1985. Here, now, is the roll:

  • Support for unilateralism and/or opposition to nuclear defences.
  • Support for the Nicaraguan communist regime.
  • Support for the Cuban communist regime.
  • Opposition to the Gulf war.
  • Support for law-breaking.
  • Support for the Afghan communist regime and/or opposition to the Afghan resistance movement.
  • Support for unilateral closure of Porton Down.
  • Support for the Angolan communist regime.
  • Support for aims of the North Korean communist regime.
  • Support for the Wapping pickets.
  • Support for the Scargill strike.
  • Condemnation of SAS ''terrorism'' on Gibraltar.
  • Support for the abolition of MI5 and/or Special Branch.
  • Support for the extreme left Socialist Campaign Group.
  • Support for Militant or of Militant front bodies.
  • Support for the Grenadan communist regime.
  • Support for the Kremlin's World Peace Congress.

As I say, some of these embraces are no more than a shake-hand with a man who smells slightly of sulphur, though others indicate a much closer acquaintance with His Satanic Majesty. But the beauty of the scheme is that with the use of cross-references (generously provided by the compilers) it is possible to see at a glance, not only which causes are the most popular, but also which MPs have saluted the greatest number of them. Thus, as would have been expected, the largest group of Labour MPs sailed under the unilateralist flag; there were 145 of them. (The book is remarkably fair: after listing the 145, it records the five former unilateralists, including Neil Kinnock, who in 1991 announced that they were no longer members of CND.)

The second most popular cause (with 144 supporters – only one fewer than CND) was support of the Nicaraguan regime. Far more shameful was the tally of 67 supporters or admirers of the brutal Stalinist regime imposed upon Cuba by Castro; and at home the same number were willing to support law-breaking.

Faraway tyrannical regimes (the more oppressive the better, it seems) were cheered on by many Labour MPs: 59 for Angola, 55 for North Korea, even 22 for the murderers in Grenada. (The final table records the 26 Labour MPs who had never supported any of these causes; they include, to their credit, Roy Hattersley, Peter Shore, John Smith and Stuart Bell.)

Now, at last, I come to the point. Another set of tables in the book shows clearly which MPs have advanced the greatest number of the 17 left-wing causes. So Kevin McNamara has embraced only one, Austin Mitchell two, Robin Cook three, and so on. Only two MPs of the 181 have adhered to every single one of the left-wing causes and thus hold the complete set of coupons which, in due course, they can exchange for a delicious toffee-apple. They are William Michie, of whom I know nothing, and Robert Parry, the MP who was arrested in Peking, then interrogated for four hours, and finally bundled ignominously out of the country.

Well, is there gratitude? Here is a man who congratulated Castro on the 30th anniversary of the dictator's rule; who supported the fraudulent ''World Peace Congress''; who described as ''these patriots of Grenada'' men who had been convicted of murdering the previous leaders of the country; who excused the suppression of the only non-communist newspaper in Nicaragua; who saluted the memory and mourned the death of Dolores Ibarruri, one of the most brutal Stalinists in the Spanish civil war (she remained an unwavering Stalinist until her death); who advocated 100 percent union ''closed shops'', and, in a delightfully touching encore demanded ''the complete rehabilitation of Trotsky''.

Could there ever have been a man more fitting to have a motorcade welcome to Peking, a 30-course dinner in his honour, the Order of Mao hung round his neck? Day in and day out, with as far as I can see nothing but his MP's salary to keep him going, he laboured in the heat and the dust to make the world a lefter place. And what did the Chinese authorities do? They threw him in the slammer and tossed him out of the country by the next plane going anywhere.

And for what? For unrolling a banner in support of unions; it's enough to make a man run screaming to the Tories and sign up. But a horrid thought obtrudes: suppose Mr Parry, MP, actually went to his paradise island, Cuba, seeking to leftify it still more, and Castro was not amused? Suppose Mr Parry's hero had him not only arrested, but condemned to be shot? What do you think his last words would be? No, not ''Ingratitude! Ingratitude!'' Mindful of his reputation, he would surely die with his best beloved words on his lips: ''Up with Trotsky! Closed shop! Closed shop!''

[NOTE: Who’s Left? was compiled by Julian Lewis in the run-up to the 1992 General Election.]