How worried should punters be about the Home Secretary’s past?
When Tony Blair finally announces his intentions the starting gun will be fired on an event unprecedented in UK politics – a mass leadership election in a party that will effectively choose a new Prime Minister.
For the last times that new leaders have been chosen while their parties were in power the electorates were restricted to just MPs. It was the respective parliamentary parties that chose Jim Callaghan after Wilson resignation in 1976 and Mrs Thatcher’s ousting in 1990. Since then there’ve been rule changes in both parties to provide for mass ballots.
There’s another difference – unlike 1976 and 1990 we are now in the world of vastly expanded news machines all looking to chase after stories. The coverage of Cameron’s election will appear like a mere side-show compared with what we can expect when Labour chooses Blair’s successor.
Every aspect of the lives of the prospective candidates lives will be put under the media microscope in a way that we have not seen before. The question for political gamblers will be whether the intensive scrutiny will affect the outcome. Is this where John Reid could be vulnerable?
One of the joys of a John Reid bid is that we might get repeat screenings of the famous Newsnight interview during the 2005 Election which led to the then Health Secretary describing Jeremy Paxman as a “West London Wanker”. I find that amusing but it could be easily held against him.
For Reid, who has held an amazing eight different Cabinet posts in seven year, is well known for his colourful language. In June 2003, his reported reaction to getting Alan Milburn’s job as Health Secretary was “Oh fuck, not health”. Since then Private Eye has added the phrase “oh fuck, not health” to any mention of his name.
What could be much more difficult for him is that during the 1990s Bosnian War, he was reported to have struck up a friendship with the Serb rebel leader Radovan KaradÅ¾iÄ‡ who was later indicted for war crimes. It’s said that Reid spent three days at a luxury Swiss hotel as a guest of KaradÅ¾iÄ‡ in 1993. What went on there? Why did he go? Reid needs convincing explanations.
This could raise questions about his former membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In typical Reid style he is quoted as saying “I used to be a Communist. I used to believe in Santa Claus”. You can see the Tories and the Daily Mail getting their teeth into that one.
His reported heavy drinking which he has now stopped completely and his reputation as a “bruiser” in his youth all open up lines of inquiry that will be highlighted during a leadership campaign.
I’m a very cautious gambler and during the Tory leadership campaign I cut back my position on David Cameron very considerably one Saturday because I was fearful about what the Sunday papers might produce. That turned out to be a damp squib and I lost several thousand pounds in potential winnings. I have backed Reid down to 11/1. I’m not going any further for the moment.
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