MP’s challenge to boys on his return to QE

Veteran Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins threw down the gauntlet to today’s QE pupils when he visited the School for the first time in more than half a century.

Politics had become “full of extreme egos – selfish, self–centred and in search of fame” and its “intellectual culture” had gone. “I’d like to see it restored… perhaps you will do that,” he told the audience at the Politics Society meeting.

Kelvin (OE 1952–1959) traced his inspiration for entering politics back to his School days, when he could see the front of the QE Main Building from the bedroom window of the family home near Ravenscroft Park. He remembered seeing poor boys come to School hungry; this, he said, meant he “naturally became a person of the left… and I retain that passion all these years later”.

""During his visit to the Politics Society, which was arranged by Year 13 pupil Adrian Burbie and chaired by Rehaan Bapoo, of Year 12, he answered some wide-ranging questions from the floor in a good-natured and thoughtful manner. He was welcomed to the School – his first time on the premises since he came to play in a jazz band in 1960 – by Headmaster Neil Enright and Head of Politics Liam Hargadon, who is also Head of Year 13.

Kelvin had a long career within the trade union movement, including roles with the TUC and, latterly, Unison, and it was only in 1997 that he became an MP, taking Luton North with a 17.4% swing from the Conservatives – the sixth-largest swing to Labour in the country. And yet, although he entered Parliament as part of the landslide that swept Tony Blair to power, he is firmly on the left of his party and no fan of the former PM. There was much discussion during the meeting about the relative merits and faults of Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair.

""Blair, he said, had not won the three General Elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005: instead, the Conservatives had lost them, with New Labour holding on only because “the Tories were still too unpopular”. He labelled Tony Blair the political son of Margaret Thatcher and argued that free trade and neo-liberalism had produced “lower growth, higher unemployment and greater instability”. The world had become a “worse place” since Blair’s decision to support President George W Bush in Iraq, he believed, warning that we should beware “charismatics” in politics.

""A former supporter of Tony Benn and longstanding member of the Eurosceptic left, Kelvin was one of the MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the party leadership in 2015, and he continues to support the present Leader of the Opposition. People were “looking for someone different”, and this could be Jeremy Corbyn. But he acknowledged the difficulty of winning former Labour supporters back, describing the task of getting the party back into power as a “serious challenge”.

Having served (twice) on the Public Administration Committee, as well as on the European Scrutiny Committee and Transport Committee, he was briefly Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (July – October 2016), following the wave of resignations triggered by the removal of Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Kelvin campaigned for a ‘leave’ vote in June’s EU Referendum. He felt the fact that the Labour Party establishment campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU was a problem, given that 70% of Labour constituencies outside London voted ‘leave’.

""Topics raised in questions asked from the floor included:

  • Trident – he is against nuclear weapons, having been a leading member of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)
  • Free trade – he is more in favour of managed trade, based on Keynesian principles
  • Voting age – he supports the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds.