Pound Notes

Written By: Stephen Pound
Published: July 30, 2017 Last modified: July 29, 2017

Wandering the empty and echoing halls of the Palace of Westminster and passing the time with the ever-present doorkeepers and security staff, the MP who has remained at the gas works while others slope off to Aruba (whilst claiming to be heading for Aberystwyth) cannot but feel a strange sense of disconnection from the reality of the outside world.

Here within the hermetically sealed environment, protected from that which lies beyond the barrier, I often think of the great Roger Corman film of Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death as the appropriate analogy.

In the film the Satanist Prince Prospero and his circle wallow in luxury while out­side a plague known as the Red Death rages. The sybarites in silk look inward to their own vanity and seek amusement in such grotesquery as having the loathsome character Hop-toad hoist up on the chandelier chain a man dressed as a great ape, douse him in brandy and set him afire.

Now as I look at the exhausted and increasingly irrelevant government I see the self-delusion of Prince Prospero, the refusal to acknowledge existence beyond the castle walls, the inward looking obsession and, of course, no shortage of takers for the character of Hop-toad.

I would not claim that the rising tide of democratic socialism lapping at the exterior is comparable to the Red Death but it will prove to be so for many a smug Tory believing themselves safe for life in their crenelated constituency castles. Whisper the words “Canterbury” and “Kensington” in their ears and see the blood drain from the faces of the flaccid fops!

The greatest modern chronicler of the end of empires, Ryszard Kapuscinski, describes the dying days of the Abyssinian Empire ruled by Haile Selassie, as hereditary doorkeepers stand by to greet guests who never come, order papers and royal decrees blow unheeded through the passages of the palace and, in the royal zoo, a great elephant slowly topples to the ground and dies having been unfed for many months.

But, comrades, there is life outside Pugin’s collapsing masterpiece. In that real world from which many a parliamentarian seeks to be insulated there are by-elections. And Labour has been doing rather well!

Leek East sounds as if it should be in South Wales but is actually in the Staffordshire Moorlands constituency and on July 20 Labour won with a 25.6 swing! In New Romney (Shepway) Labour narrowly lost but recorded a 21.5 % increase in the vote.

Delightfully, Labour won Alston Moor in the wonderfully named Eden division of Cumbria with more than 55% of the vote. Trying to discover how Labour’s Lissie Sharp had done so brilliantly in Tory held Penrith and the Border I couldn’t help but note that the Tory was proposed by someone called English, the Green by someone called England, but Lissie was proposed by a person named Green!

Whatever the reason, it was a good night for Labour and will only increase the sense of isolation felt by those hiding behind the Westminster walls.

Being the only person in the library allows me time to think and I genuinely wonder if Grenfell Tower has marked a sea-change in British politics. I feel as though something utterly fundamental has shifted in the national consciousness.

There really does seem to be a universal recognition that our society, our economy, our country is seriously out of kilter and that increasingly brutal austerity will lead inevitably to a complete collapse of social cohesion just as a huge reduction in police numbers will lead – and has led – to a huge increase in crime and criminality.

The yawning chasm between the wealthy south of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the hard pressed, ignored and unconsidered north is a metaphor for our country today.

There are those in denial – listen to the fawning lickspittles stretching out their tongues from the slime stained government benches searching out a ministerial arse to kiss and you could believe that all is well in the best of all possible worlds. The more they seek to justify the ever-expanding gaps between the classes the more desperate they sound. Only the head of HR at the BBC could be as desperately self-deluding.

Could this be the tipping point? Are we really about to complete Clement Attlee’s work, to make flesh the dreams of Aneurin Bevan? Six months ago I would have thought you mad for even suggesting such a thing. Three months ago I would have entertained serious doubts.

Three days ago I thought I felt something in the air that I have never known before – a longing for change and a sense of disgust with the old order.

I sense a historic opportunity for Labour. I’ll be campaigning this summer and if Jeremy Corbyn can energise crowds in Bournemouth then how can I stay away from Harrow East and – yes – Uxbridge!

A united Labour party can go on to achieve that transformation of society and I pray that some of the newly joined members fired by passion and intensity will accept that it is not only them who can be true believers; there are some of us in the Labour movement who have been working for a fairer and more equal and inclusive world for many years before Momentum.

Prince Prospero and the interim Prime Minister can keep their silken dalliances but outside the walls something really is changing. I am actually starting to believe that our day will come.

About Stephen Pound

Stephen Pound is Labour MP for Ealing North