Anita Pollack

Anita Pollack

Book -> Reviews -> Brian Cassidy
Wreckers or Builders?

"Wreckers or Builders?"

Review by Brian Cassidy

Cassidy, Brian. (2009) Book Review: Wreckers or Builders? Former Members' Bulletin, European Parliament. No. 29. December 2009

Anita Pollack has produced a fascinating, gossipy memoir covering the period 1979-1999.

Elected to the European Parliament as MEP for London South West in 1989, she spent some years working as assistant to an iconic figure of the Labour Left, Barbara Castle who in spite ofher anti European views was elected to the European Parliament as MEP for Greater Manchester West in 1979.

Principally concerned with internal Labour Party manoeuvrings and revelations ofthe difficulties Labour MEPs had in the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, the book acknowledges the activities of other nationalities and other British Members. Indeed, generous tribute is paid to some British Conservatives notably Lord Plumb, the first British President of the Parliament. The 'bloody British question' is covered in detail both before Mrs Thatcher's securing of the British 'rebate' at Fontainbleu in 1984 and the subsequent efforts by diverse British governments to slow down the process of 'federalism'. (Continental readers will be baffied by the obsession with that word in UK political debate!) But the author grants that the Single Market can be counted as one of the positive British achievements. The Labour Party's anxiety about "Europe imposing restrictions on a Labour Government" looked a little thin once President Mitterand came to power in 1981. Anita quotes Mitterand as having said that 'he thought the Labour Party was not left enough!'

In the General Election of 1983 Labour was 'committed to withdraw in an amicable and orderly way'. It went down to heavy defeat, its manifesto being described as 'the longest suicide note in history'. The Party leader, Kinnock, is reported as having assured French socialist leader, Jospin, 'if I have one clear ambition as Leader of the Labour Parry, it is to drag it out of fifteen years of isolationism and put it back in the mainstream of European politics.'

1984 was the beginning of Labour's fight back with a significant increase in Labour MEPs culminating in the landslide victory of the Labour Party under Tony Blair in 1997 and the increase in Labour MEPs from 17 in 1979 to 62 in 1999.

Anita Pollack, well placed as Barbara Castle's assistant, notes that the directly elected intake in 1979 included a number of 'stars'. Among them: Jacques Delors who became President of the Commission, Carlo Ripa di Meana who was later to become Commissioner for the Environment, Edith Cresson later to become French Prime Minister, the late Karel van Miert who owed his second period in office directly to British Prime Minister, John Major, having vetoed an earlier Belgian nominee!

The book is a lively read to be appreciated not only by Socialist MEPs but to all nationalities and creeds who were involved in the European Parliament between the twenty years of 1979-1999. There is an irony in Anita Pollack's account of Labour's rebranding itself as pro-EU and tne apparent progress in the opposite direction of the British Conservatives! Like all good political memoirs, there is an extensive index to help those who might be mentioned to find out quickly whether or not they are, before deciding to buy the book!

United Kingdom (1984-1999)