Anita Pollack

Anita Pollack

Book -> Reviews -> Martin Westlake
Wreckers or Builders?

"Wreckers or Builders?"

Review by Martin Westlake

Uhr, John, DeGregorio, Christine, Scully, Roger, Westlake, Martin, Mair, Peter and Dai, Xiudian 2010) 'Book Reviews', The Journal of Legislative Studies, 16: 2, 268 276

Since June 2009 there have been just thirteen Labour Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Among the victims of Labour's poor showing was Richard Corbett, a former parliamentary official who was widely respected for his commitment to the Parliament's constitutional cause. That Corbett should have lost to a British National Party MEP was painfully symbolic of how low Labour had sunk but also how the United Kingdom's relationship with Europe had been changing. In the autumn of the same year, David Harley, a former Secretary General of the Group of the Party of European Socialists, unexpectedly retired as Deputy Secretary General of the Parliament. With his departure, Labour's representation within the European Parliament at administrative level further dwindled, echoing what was happening at the political level. It wasn't always like this. There was a period in the late 1990s when the European Parliament seemed almost to 'belong' to Labour. In the 1994 European elections Labour won no less than sixty-two seats (out of eighty-seven). Pauline Green was elected Leader of the Socialist Group and in March 1997, anticipating Labour's General Election victory, Julian Priestley was appointed as Secretary General of the European Parliament. This book charts Labour's progress in the Parliament, from anti-Marketeer dominated rump (just seventeen MEPs) in 1979 to the high water mark of Pauline Green's leadership (1994-1999) to the dramatic electoral slump of June 1999 (down to twenty-nine MEPs). Over those twenty years Labour came 'in from the cold', shrugging off its anti-Marketism, embracing the internal market, balanced by a social Europe, and taking its place as a major player in the mainstream of European centre-left politics. Anita Pollack lived through it all, starting as an assistant to Barbara Castle (the European Parliamentary Labour Party's first leader in 1979) and serving as an MEP from 1989 until 1999, when the electoral axe fell. Wreckers or Builders is an extraordinary work. Pollack has drawn on her own experience, interviews with MEPs, MPs and officials and parliamentary and political documentation to give a detailed account of how the European Parliamentary Labour Party evolved. Concentrating on individuals and events, Pollack paints a rich and detailed portrait of a process that begun with a moody and rebellious adolescent and ended with a mature and measured adult. For those who lived through this process, the book will, I am sure, be obligatory reading (and I suspect it will have been found in quite a few Christmas stockings). Political and European Parliament junkies will also enjoy the many episodes and incidents Pollack relates. For those not directly or indirectly involved, the account is probably too detailed for cover-to-cover reading but it will remain nevertheless an authoritative reference work covering an important period in the Labour Party's history. Pollack hints at the end that another volume, covering the 1999-2009 period, is in the pipeline. I hope that she does indeed write it and that John Harper Publishing (to be commended for publishing this volume) again enables us to gaze into the fascinating world that Pollack so lovingly portrays.

MARTIN WESTLAKE © 2010