The terminal secretions of New Labour may be amplified by way of a literary comparison, one that befits the moral and intellectual stature of its most loyal adherents. In Book II of Keats’s Hyperion, a near-catatonic bunch of Titans sit around in silent dolour, contemplating their inexorable fall from power at the hands of a new generation of gods. ‘Dungeon’d’ in their ‘nest of woe’, they resemble a ‘dismal cirque of Druid stones’, and thus enfeebled can offer one another neither ‘word, [n]or look, [n]or action of despair’.
Those that make up the Labour Party establishment are colossi too, but they differ from Saturn & Co in one important respect: instead of moping self-indulgently about their deposition by hundreds of thousands of party members and supporters, these imperishable creatures have strained with white-knuckled desperation to reclaim their lost supremacy. Hence we have witnessed them crawl humbly from pillar to post over the last few weeks and months in service of their cause, and we have seen Tony Blair — the very Uranus out of which most of them came forth — solemnly declare the new order unviable.
Then again, perhaps the slant of this analysis is excessively uncharitable towards Keats’s Titans, some of whom do indeed resist the natural development of things with as much vigour as the Titans of contemporary Labour. One can, for instance, see shades of Hillary Benn in Enceladus, who ‘tiger-passion’d, lion-thoughted, wroth’, takes the lead in plotting his outfit’s return to power. Just as the Giant in Hyperion uses his ‘stature vast’ and august tones to imbue his slumbrous brethren Gods with all the rage of wildfire, Benn employed his to secure the resignations of such notables as Ian Murray, Kate Green and Lucy Powell from the shadow cabinet, agitating bravely from beneath a cloak of total anonymity. And who is Owen Smith… if not ‘blazing Hyperion’ himself, the mighty eponymous god of Keats’s epic and the only one of his devitalised set capable of mounting a stand against the insurgent Olympians?
Unfortunately for New Labour, such capability did not change the course of the Titanomachy. And if one looks carefully, one will see that the ‘flaming robes’ which ‘stream’d beyond’ Hyperion’s heels seem in Smith’s case to be nothing more than a sorry trail of mucus (he is after all so slimy that his head looks at any given moment as though it might suddenly sprout a pair of tentacles). All that remains to do, then, is watch Smith lead his breed full steam ahead into the Tartarus of political oblivion and — with any luck — eternal disgrace to boot.