BREX FACTOR: Why is Labour man Barry Gardiner never off TV?
- Credit: Archant
Plus STEVE ANGLESEY picks out his top Brexiteers of the week.
Of all Brexit's conundrums - backstops and borders, deals and declarations - one question keeps recurring: Why is Barry Gardiner on my television again?
Is it the shadow trade secretary's slight resemblance to two 1970s telly icons, World Of Sport's Dickie Davies and Doctor Who's original Master, Roger Delgado, which make him so irresistible to Marr, Peston, Boulton, Ridge et al? Are bookers subconsciously filling a Barry gap left by greats of the past: Took, Humphries, Cryer, Norman?
Or, as seems far more likely, is Gardiner just about the only person Labour's high command can trust to defend their ludicrously confused Brexit policy without going rogue Remain, an understandable tendency which seems to have limited the television opportunities for the likes of Keir Starmer, Tom Watson, and, since her post-European elections outburst, Emily Thornberry?
Barry's ubiquity is well established - seven Question Times in the last two years; three Marrs in the last six months - but cannot be down to the quality of his arguments. Two pieces of footage from his most recent appearances are doing the rounds on social media.
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In the first, he can be seen explaining to new Brexit Party MEP Alex Phillips that Norway is in a single market with the EU and Turkey is in a customs arrangement with the EU despite not actually being part of the EU. This would be a powerful takedown of the BXP's position that Leave actually means no-deal were it not for the fact that in August 2017 Barry Gardiner argued that post-Brexit Britain should leave the customs union, saying would be a "disaster" to stay, and should not seek a Norway-style single market agreement, claiming it would leave the UK like a "vassal state".
In the second clip, Gardiner denies that Labour is now supporting a second referendum, insisting party policy is "exactly the same as it was at the party conference, which is that if we could not get (an acceptable deal) then of course we would oppose no-deal. We would look either for a public vote or, indeed, for a general election… we have, as the opposition, no power to deliver a second referendum". Again, this would work better had a week earlier Barry not explained that the lesson of the European elections was: "Clarity beats a complex message every time."
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Gardiner is Captain Contradiction, the living embodiment of Labour's push-me pull-you approach. Hence he can show up on Good Morning Britain to defend Brexit while sporting a Stronger In sticker on his iPad, or claim he "fully supports" Starmer's six tests for judging a final deal despite having been recorded describing one of them as "bollocks… always has been bollocks and remains so".
Hence he can tell a meeting that "people have played up the issue of the Irish border and the need to have the shibboleth of the Good Friday Agreement" and then insist "my informal remarks in a meeting last month have led to misunderstanding". Hence he can appear on radio in March this year saying "the Labour Party is not a Remain party now" and on television a few weeks later saying "we would put it to a public vote and in that the choice would be between no-deal and Remain and we would support Remain".
Gardiner is pushed forward to peddle these muddy messages - usually accompanied by the phrase "our position is perfectly clear" - because those in the leader's office perceive him as ultra-loyal and he has banked considerable credit after the failed 2016 coup against Corbyn, during which he replaced Lisa Nandy.
Yet he was not an original Corbynista - he voted for the war in Iraq and the Lisbon Treaty - and former colleagues remember him as once being loyal to Tony Blair (who gave him three junior ministerial appointments), to Gordon Brown (before turning on him in a failed coup in 2008) and to Ed Miliband (whose brother David he supported in the 2010 leadership election).
Before his breakthrough, Gardiner was notable mostly for his remarkable campaign literature. In the 2000s a leaflet titled "Barry Gardiner: The man, the politician" contained this quote: "Anyone who has heard Barry speak in parliament knows not only the extraordinary power of his intellect but his passionate belief in justice". In 2015, he went one better in his bid to become chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, sending each of the 650 MPs a leaf onto which had been stuck a photo of his face, with this accompanying acrostic:
For… Barry Gardiner.
Despite this, he lost.
Gardiner's promotional abilities also appear to have been used to support his wife Caroline Smith, a poet whose book Thistles of the Hesperides attracted a rave Amazon review which called it "beautiful, funny, uplifting and tragically moving… Think Douglas Dunn at his best or Seamus Heaney, but with the long narrative eye of Browning". The review was posted by email@example.com, an email address which linked to an Amazon book wishlist in the name of 'Barry Gardiner'.
Meanwhile Barry has a fan club of his own, with far-left sites like The Canary and Skwawkbox hailing him as "Labour's star media performer" and for having "owned numerous interviewers and anchors since 2017". Others may find watching him on television leaves a similar taste in the mouth to the one Barry Gardiner experienced at a Labour conference in the early 2000s.
Towards the end of the week, a colleague told Prospect magazine, our hero asked if anyone in the room had any toothpaste. When the response was in the affirmative, Gardiner replied: "Oh thank God. I Ieft mine at home and I've been brushing my teeth with soap for three days."
Brexiteers of the week
4) SIR EDWARD LEIGH
The ruddy-faced MP for Gainsborough released his own manifesto, including shutting down parliament in order to leave the EU on October 31, scrapping the top rate of tax and imposing a single flat rate, cutting the international aid budget, raising the defence budget and introducing stricter immigration targets.
Leigh then lent his support in the Tory leadership stakes to Michael Gove, who supports precisely none of these positions, has already said he would extend Article 50 by anything from a few weeks to a few months in order to get the best possible deal from the EU and recently insisted: "Proroguing parliament in order to try to get no-deal through would be wrong for many reasons. It would not be true to the best traditions of British democracy."
3) MIKE GREENE
The Brexit Party's failed Peterborough candidate showed his incredible grasp of the EU's shadowy role in our education system in an interview with website Joe.
He said: "We are told the sort of hours that kids should go to school, we're given things they should be fed in school. We're given what subjects they should do in school. Were increasingly told how they should be monitored, tested and what exams they should do"
None of this is true, and when interviewer Oli Dugmore asked if he could name an instance where the EU has insisted on something for our education system which we have had to act upon, Greene replied: "No."
The Mail Online's comment section has produced some remarkable Brexit bile over the past three years, but possibly nothing to match this: "It's not enough to sack Remoaners from the Cabinet, they need to be banished from parliament and from ever serving as MPs again - and prosecuted wherever possible to the full extent of the law to ensure this tyrannical subversion and assault on democracy does not happen again. Many have openly discussed treason, political anarchy and cultural subversion as a means to stopping Brexit and they MUST be punished."
And best of all? The message was posted from the Brexit heartland of New Aquitaine, France.
1) LANCE FORMAN
The smoked salmon magnate and new Brexit Party MEP for London marked his first trip to Brussels with an angry tweet about not being able to vote on the machines at the EU parliament. "Have only been here a day, but it's very clear, there is no democracy here," he wrote, before well-wishers pointed out that to activate the device, he had to insert his ID card in a large slot at the top. The machine's screen, which Forman had ignored, even showed an image of a card being inserted into the slot!
He wrote later: "The Twittersphere has gone mental. These next few months are going to be fun. Remainers simply can't cope with reality." Well, this Leaver simply can't cope with basic instructions...
Editor's note: Lance Forman has contacted The New European to say his tweet about voting machines was "in jest", and that the second half of it "was related to a lecture I had been given about how the EU Parliament works".
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