Tam's retired but he's still having a blast
IN a House of Commons career spanning more than 40 years, Tam Dalyell was a thorn in the side of successive governments of both red and blue.
More than a year after leaving Westminster for the last time, it's obvious retirement has done little to soften his ire. Ask the veteran parliamentarian whom he considers to be the worst incumbent of 10 Downing Street and the answer couldn't be clearer.
"I was thrown out of the House of Commons five times for accusing Mrs Thatcher of lying but even she didn't lie like Tony Blair," he blasts.
Mr Blair, he says, is no longer just the worst PM since he first took up his West Lothian seat, but the worst in the history of Westminster. Gordon Brown's support for a Trident replacement means he is little better and as for David Cameron, well he's just an actor who's never had a proper job.
Since giving up the Commons last May, the veteran parliamentarian has had time to reflect on the political happenings at the place that was once his second home, from the point of view of a spectator and voter.
When he took an enforced lay-off from the House of Commons a few years ago for an operation, he was appalled by what he saw on the television, especially at Prime Minister's Questions.
And with more time to reflect on matters, his opinion has changed, if anything, for the worst.
"Watching proceedings in the House of Commons I knew things were bad when I was there but I just didn't realise that they were that bad," he said. "I am more appalled than ever about Prime Minister's Questions. I think it is absolutely unbelievable.
"The last PMQs before parliament broke up, there were absolutely massive issues going on in the Middle East and Labour MP Stephen Hesford got up to ask the Prime Minister to congratulate the organisers of the Open golf tournament in Hoylake in his constituency. It was unbelievable. That sort of thing makes parliament a laughing stock."
And it's not just events inside the Commons that have been occupying the mind and raising the ire of the retired backbencher.
"I voted for John Prescott as party leader in 1994 but I think he should be sacked immediately for what he has done. Prime Ministers like Jim Callaghan or Harold Wilson wouldn't have tolerated this.
"I am appalled by some of the things John Prescott has been up to, particularly in relation to a civil servant in his department. In any other public body he would have been sacked.
"It's an example of the arrogance of Tony Blair. I am not a moral guardian but it's just unacceptable. When I'd been an MP for 40 years I was asked whom I thought the worst Prime Minister I had dealt with was. I think the interviewer was surprised when I didn't say Margaret Thatcher but Tony Blair. My opinion has only changed in that I think now he is the worst Prime Minister ever.
"What I think is he's been lying to the House of Commons over the war in Iraq ever since May 2002 when he said there wasn't an agreement with President Bush but there was. I think it is very difficult to run a parliamentary democracy when ministers lie to the House of Commons.
"I think Tony Blair is an actor. He has no history and is not steeped in politics.
"I think the best Prime Ministers I worked under were Harold Wilson and Harold Macmillan. Macmillan was a bit of an actor but was steeped in politics. I also have a lot of respect for the short-term Prime Ministers Jim Callaghan and Alec Douglas-Home."
It's not all doom and gloom though. New Labour, he says, has achieved much - though should have accomplished much more.
"I think the Government has done some good things especially in relation to helping children and the minimum wage. I also think it has done good things, dare I say it after the abolition of the Child Support Agency, in relation to the detail of work and pensions.
"But I think it could have done better things without Tony Blair. That's why I voted for John Prescott in 1994. I voted for what he was then, not for what he is now. Perhaps it would have been better if he had become leader rather than festering away as deputy. I don't know if he would have won the 1997 election but I think John Smith would have done.
"I think he was the great lost Labour leader and Prime Minister. I think he could have done a lot more than Tony Blair because he would have done it with the support of the Labour Party."
He also has praise for Gordon Brown for giving the Bank of England its independence and its "head" in 1997 as he had urged him to before the election, although he feels that the Chancellor and Prime Minister missed an opportunity by not joining the Euro. But he's furious over Mr Brown's declaration in his recent Mansion House speech that he would support a replacement for Trident.
Despite strongly supporting civil nuclear power, Mr Dalyell said: "I could never vote for Gordon Brown as Labour leader after that. I think we also have real problems after devolution with a Scot entering No 10. I don't think it can happen. There are plenty of other candidates like Education Secretary Alan Johnson and International Development Secretary Hilary Benn."
But he's not too impressed by new Tory leader David Cameron.
"As far as I can see he's never done a proper job outside politics. He's an actor like Tony Blair. If I was a Tory I would have voted for Ken Clarke because he's a pro European but if not I would have voted for Liam Fox or David Davis who have both held down proper jobs."
Mr Dalyell is very keen on the idea of politicians having done a proper job and also on restoring powerful metropolitan local authorities. Since giving up the old seat he has spent his time as president of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, trying to attract investment to the country and ordering his papers for a possible set of memoirs.
In addition he's been assisting his wife Kathleen in the running of his National Trust home, The Binns. The man who famously posed the "West Lothian Question" - asking why Scottish post-devolution MPs should be allowed to vote on Westminster matters when English MPs could not vote on West Lothian issues - is still opposed to devolution.
He still believes the Scottish Parliament could lead to the break-up of the UK and would rather see the return of powerful Strathclyde and Lothian metropolitan authorities and their equivalent south of the Border.
But he believes that the Labour Party and politics can renew itself after the damage done by Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher to democracy and Cabinet government. And does he miss Westminster - obviously.
Would he like to be in the House of Lords? He replies: "I firmly believe that all MPs who join the Lords should be working peers. That would mean travelling down to London on a Monday and coming back on a Friday. I did that for 43 years and to be frank I didn't want to do it any more.
"I've got plenty to do. I don't have any time to relax at home."
Adds Kathleen: "It's great having him back home but it's certainly not the least bit relaxing."
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