Lord Owen: ‘Politics is a blood sport, no use complaining’

Joel Nelson discusses Brexit, the NHS, Cameron and Blair with one of the infamous ‘Gang of Four’.

Varsity (publication of Cambridge University)
19 April 2017


David Owen greets me at the door of his home in Limehouse, east London. The former Labour Foreign Secretary, NHS GP and founder of the Social Democratic Party – which split from Labour in the 1980s – is as enigmatic and articulate as ever, full of memories of his days at Cambridge, enthusiasm for Brexit and contempt for those who seek to delay it. We spend an interesting two hours sparring.

…Before long, our conversation moves to contemporary matters.

…Why, I wonder, having been so fervent a supporter of Europe, had he become a Brexiteer? He refutes the premise of my question and is at pains to stress that he has always been an anti-federalist, recalling his youthful admiration for the anti-federalist stance of Hugh Gaitskell, the then leader of the Labour Party.

… He reserves a special level of opprobrium for those who seek to arrest Brexit. “I look at the whole thing at the moment and these debates,” he says, anger creeping into his voice, “and I say, which planet are they on? I’m only sad to see now John Major joining in this whole thing. He knows perfectly well what the procedure is. It’s a treaty. You can’t negotiate a treaty through the House of Commons.”

… “They [the Remain campaign] had their chance,” he continues. “They controlled the government, they spent more than the Leave campaign, they had the opportunity to say in no unvarnished terms … their case directly. They told us all these dire and horrendous consequences. As far as the fairness of the campaign is concerned, politics is a blood sport, no use complaining. Everybody cheats, everybody uses every form or mechanism they can get away with. ’Twas ever so and it ain’t going to change easily.”

… The elites, he tells me, “can’t take defeat. The British tradition is: the umpire’s finger goes up and you walk, and these people don’t know to walk.”

…I ask Lord Owen, as a former doctor and former minister for health, for his views on the current situation in the NHS. He refutes the premise of my question, once again, telling me, “I refuse to talk about the NHS in England. I talk about the English Health Service. It’s not a national health service. These guys have completely destroyed one of the best pieces of social legislation we’ve ever had in this country. My problem with Blair is not the Iraq War but what he’s done to things like the NHS. Same with Cameron.”

Read the full article here: Politics is a blood sport, no use complaining