Let Lord Levy speak his mind

The attacks on Michael Levy’s new memoir are groundless

In a few days’ time, my old school chum, Baron Levy of Mill Hill, will publish a political memoir. The son of a minor synagogue official, Michael Levy rose — or, rather, raised himself — from relative obscurity to become the leading Anglo-Jewish plutocrat of his generation. Not content with this, he went much further than any previous leading plutocrat that the Jews of Britain have produced. He became the chief fundraiser to the leader of a political party that, at the time (we are talking of the mid-1990s), seemed unlikely ever again to win office.

Many and varied were the Jewish pundits who assured me, at the time, that my old school chum had backed the wrong horse. Well, he hadn’t. And when Mr Blair trounced the Tories in 1997, and entered 10 Downing Street, Michael Levy was not far behind. Without ever himself holding ministerial office, he became the closest confidant of the Prime Minister. To be able to telephone the Prime Minister whenever he chose, and be certain of being put through, and of not being fobbed off by a private secretary — that is power indeed. To be able to observe the workings of 10 Downing Street at such close quarters and in such intimate detail — that is a rare privilege.

Naturally this privilege and this power came at a price. Every politician has enemies — it goes (as they say) with the territory. Michael Levy’s enemies, however, were to be found not just within the upper echelons of the Labour party and government — those who resented this well-coiffured Jewish upstart from Stoke Newington who (virtually) had the front-door key of No 10. They were also drawn from the ranks of the Jews. That a man called “Levy” should (without even bothering to anglicise his surname) be so close to the Prime Minister evoked fear and envy. When Michael Levy was arrested during the cash-for-honours investigations, some Jews of my acquaintance visibly gloated, but others trembled. But my old school chum had done nothing wrong, and he knew it.

Now he has decided to share with the rest of us some of the details of these turbulent years. His memoir, A Question of Honour, will afford us all a very novel perspective on the Blair premiership. Extracts have recently appeared in the Mail on Sunday. Based on what they have already read therein, some of Lord Levy’s fellow Jews appear to be less than pleased at the revelations that the memoir promises to reveal.

Professor Eric Moonman, the former Labour MP who now heads the Zionist Federation (a body of anomalous insignificance), has denounced what has already appeared as “nauseating and disagreeable … tantamount to a breach of private conversations”. “These revelations could hardly come at a worse time,” explains Professor Moonman. “The Labour leadership will not forgive or forget what has been said.” Lawrie Nerva, treasurer of a completely inconsequential committee called The Jewish Labour Movement, has added to this denunciation. “At a time when all Labour supporters should be seen to be closing ranks,” opined Mr Nerva, Lord Levy’s decision to publish a memoir revealed “a total disregard” of the damage that might be done to the standing of the Labour party.

Rarely have I read such sanctimonious twaddle dressed up as allegedly serious political comment — and believe me, one doesn’t spend 40 years studying British political history (as I have done) without coming across a great deal of twaddle and a goodly measure of completely hypocritical high-mindedness into the bargain.

Politicians have been publishing “tell all” political memoirs ever since Viscount Cross, Home Secretary under Benjamin Disraeli, circulated an account of Disraeli’s cabinets, revealing just how shallow had been the political vision that Disraeli professed. That was back in 1903. The precedent set by Cross has been followed by numerous other men and women in public life, and is now well established.

As for the “damage” — if any — that Michael Levy’s memoir might have done to the Labour party, incomparably greater damage was — surely — done by those who forced Tony Blair from office and replaced him with the arch-bungler Gordon Brown.

When Michael Levy’s back was against the ropes, how many of the Labour glitterati spoke up for him?

Party loyalty is all very well. But this can never override the principle of open government. And the government of the UK is going to be a little more open once Lord Levy’s memoir hits the bookstores.

    Last updated: 1:58pm, May 13 2008