Labour MP and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting may have ambitions to be the next party leader. He is certainly right-wing enough and has the advantage of being able to cover his pro-business beliefs with a rough working class background.
In his recent memoir, One Boy, Two Bills and a Fry Up: A Memoir of Growing Up and Getting On, it’s clear he embodies Labour’s commitment to facilitate individuals getting out of the working class. Streeting was raised in poverty in the East End of London. His grandad was a professional criminal who did time for armed robbery and burglary. His grandmother Nanny Libby is more interesting.
She did time too, sharing a cell in Holloway Prison in London with Christine Keeler, who was involved in the Profumo scandal. Nanny Libby went on to be a militant left wing activist. She campaigned against the commercial development of London’s Docklands. And she was actively involved in the 1986 Wapping dispute, supporting the print workers sacked by Rupert Murdoch.
In his memoir Streeting doesn’t mention what she made of New Labour’s embrace of Murdoch. Apparently it was Nanny Libby who first got him interested in Labour politics. Streeting went to Cambridge university and threw himself into the student union. In 2003 he felt obliged to resign from Labour over the invasion of Iraq and student tuition fees.
But despite Iraq, he still insists that Tony Blair is “a hero” and soon rejoined. The National Union of Students (NUS) was a career path into Labour politics. In 2006 Streeting became a full‑time vice-president and in 2008 was president for two years.
Labour’s introduction of tuition fees deterred students from poor backgrounds going to university as they would leave burdened by debt. The blow tuition fees inflicted clashed massively against Labour’s supposed commitment to social mobility. When Gordon Brown set up his review into funding higher education in 2010, there were no representatives from either the NUS or the lecturers’ union.
Instead it was headed up by New Labour’s favourite businessman, Lord Browne—the boss of BP. Browne’s review, with a budget of only £120,000, spent just £68,000. It was set up to make a recommendation that had already been decided on—to relax the £3,000 limit on fees.
New Labour had also brought business consultants into government at the huge cost of some £70 billion to supersede the civil service. The increase in tuition fees was very much the work of these people. Streeting makes much of his opposition to tuition fees as NUS president.
Nanny Libby would, one suspects, have advocated a student general strike and campus occupations, perhaps even the throwing of bricks. This was not Streeting’s response. He came up with the pledge not to increase fees that a handful of Labour MPs signed. It was also embraced by Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.
Clegg committed the Liberal Democrats to getting rid of fees altogether. Streeting gleefully notes the Liberal Democrats’ shameful betrayal of this pledge when in coalition with the Tories was a factor in their 2015 electoral wipe out.
After his term as NUS President, Streeting went to work in “the government and private sector practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers”. He was “ecstatic” to work in business consultancy. One suspects that his time with this outfit was the key formative period in his political life.
His training took place in “swanky offices” in Canary Wharf, those that Nanny Libby had opposed being built back in the 1980s. In his memoir he “wondered what she would make of it all”. She, we can be completely confident, would have thought him a total sell-out.Original post