Saturday, May 02, 2009

On 6 June, all hell will break loose

"The Labour Party faces a shattering defeat at the next general election unless there is a fundamental change in the character, culture and direction of the government. That requires a change of leadership, for two reasons.

Firstly, because Mr Brown is simply too closely associated with the economic mismanagement of the past decade to be able to restore the party’s reputation for economic competence.

Secondly, because post-McBride, he cannot now escape responsibility for the corrosive culture of spin that has always characterised New Labour. Indeed, it is now clear that he has no more abolished spin than he has abolished boom and bust."

Here's the rest of today's Journal column.



It is not so very long ago that the main yardstick against which many political commentators sought to judge would-be Prime Ministers or party leaders was whether they were “good on TV.”

Tony Blair certainly fell into that category, and for a decade, he successfully used his mastery of the arts of communication to mask his numerous other political shortcomings.

But if the last few weeks are anything to go by, we are now entering a new age in which Prime Minsters could rise and fall according to whether they are good on the internet.

Recent political events have led some pundits to pose the question: Could Gordon Brown be the first occupant of 10 Downing Street to be brought down by the worldwide web?

First, we had the Damian McBride smeargate affair, a scandal that for all the damage it has done the government, could only really have occurred in the digital age.

To start with, the smears in question were contained within emails. Secondly, they were brought to light not by the compliant national political media, which had an interest in keeping Mr McBride onside, but by an internet blogger, Guido Fawkes.

We then had the spectacle of Mr Brown making an ass of himself on YouTube, bopping around and smiling in the wrong places while announcing a clampdown on MPs expenses.

The fact that he was this week forced to withdraw the wretched proposals for fear of a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own backbenchers only served to rub salt into the self-inflicted wound.

Finally, 10 Downing Street was hoist by its own digital petard when it found itself hosting a 24,000-signature e-petition on its website calling on the Prime Minister to resign forthwith.

To add insult to injury, a rival petition calling on him to stay was signed by just 600 “visitors” including the likes of Phil McCavity and Orson Carte.

All of which left Mr Brown not just struggling to hold on to his authority, but – far worse for someone of his intellectual seriousness – struggling to avoid turning into a national joke.

As one commentator put it: “The internet hasn't yet made a politician in Britain. But the comic relief it affords bored office workers is helping to finish off poor Mr Brown.”

Of course, that was not all that the Prime Minister had to cope with this week. He also had to deal with a good old-fashioned backbench rebellion over plans to restrict the rights of Ghurkas to settle in the UK.

The obvious injustice of the government’s position presented an open goal to opposition party leaders Nick Clegg and David Cameron, whose alliance gave a foretaste of what might happen in a hung Parliament.

On top of everything else, we even had Mr Brown trying to leave the Commons Chamber after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, forgetting that he had a statement to make on the war in Afghanistan.

How MPs fell about with laughter. How this most high-minded and sensitive of Prime Ministers must have inwardly squirmed.

So where does this leave Mr Brown now? Well, the Prime Minister’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed moreorless ever since he entered No 10, and in a sense we’ve been here before.

The problem is, there are some European elections coming up on 5 June which, in my view, are likely to prove a catastrophe for Labour.

Not only is the party up to 20 points behind in the polls, but as every Labour strategist knows, the party has always had a problem getting its vote out in elections where the government of the country is not at stake.

If the elections go as badly as everyone expects they will for Labour, it will create the political momentum for some sort of Cabinet-led putsch against the premier in the early weeks of June.

This is not the time to speculate on exactly how that might happen – there will be plenty of scope in future columns for me to do that.

But the underlying truth of the situation is that the Labour Party faces a shattering defeat at the next general election unless there is a fundamental change in the character, culture and direction of the government.

That requires a change of leadership, for two reasons. Firstly, because Mr Brown is simply too closely associated with the economic mismanagement of the past decade to be able to restore the party’s reputation for economic competence.

Secondly, because post-McBride, he cannot now escape responsibility for the corrosive culture of spin that has always characterised New Labour. Indeed, it is now clear that he has no more abolished spin than he has abolished boom and bust.

As someone who has always admired Mr Brown, and believed he would make a good Prime Minister, it gives me no great pleasure to write this. In fact I feel desperately sorry for him.

He should have had the chance to work for his vision of a fairer society at a time when the political wind was set fair for Labour. It was his tragedy to be denied that chance until the tide started going out on the party.

In the five weeks leading up to 5 June, we will by and large see the party rallying round him, Charles Clarke’s comments about being “ashamed to be a Labour MP” yesterday notwithstanding.

But once these elections are out of the way, expect all hell to break loose. And not just on internet blogs and YouTube.

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8 comments:

tally said...

can they change PM again without calling an election? I think this would enrage the blogosphere more than anything else if they did this. Of course the tories and lib/dems together could stop it but the pair of them have not been very good as opposition parties and prefer the public to fight their own battles against New Labour. As an old labour voter and Campaign English Parliament member I'm looking forward to sticking the boot into the Tories if they treat England the same way as New Labour has done since 1997.

Anonymous said...

A good honest post Paul. Painful, I'm sure, but honest.

Anonymous said...

"He should have had the chance to work for his vision of a fairer society...".

Was/is that his vision? As I recall we were promised a "vision statement" some considerable time ago. No sign yet. Not even one sheet of A4.

The man is useless and a disaster for the country.

AJC

Matt Wardman said...

An outstanding post. I particularly like this:

"As one commentator put it: “The internet hasn't yet made a politician in Britain. But the comic relief it affords bored office workers is helping to finish off poor Mr Brown.”"

When it does make a politician, that will be the next stage of development online.

Alan Douglas said...

"his tragedy to be denied that chance until the tide started going out"

Oh yes. And that tide going out had NOTHING to do with the actions of the "domestic PM" (GB), while TB was the international one ?

As someone now on the poverty line since Brown stole most of my pension monies, I find it hard to agree with you. Not to mention his selling off gold into a market HE depressed first, and I think with a struggle I could think up a few more examples. A few hundred.

If you read "Alternative Edinburgh" by one G Brown you will see he has been playing fast and loose with other people's property and rights since at least his student days.

I feel sorry not for Mr Brown but for the majority of the inhabitants of these islands.

Alan Douglas

Mike Spilligan said...

Brown, "high-minded"? See Nick Cohen's article in Standpoint - Fear and Filth at Brown's No.10.
The man's a national disaster and has been at the economics helm for TWELVE years (enough for two World War 2s back-to-back) - so none of that "he didn't have a chance" nonsense.
I suppose that there'll always be people who put "the party" before the long-suffering population.

skipper said...

Paul
Not sure whether 'being good on the internet', in this context, is any different from 'being good on the telly'. Brown's excruciating youtube appearance was essentially his clueless TV style translated to the other medium.

titus-aduxas said...

"He should have had the chance to work for his vision of a fairer society at a time when the political wind was set fair for Labour."

The political wind was created by Gordon Brown, both as Chancellor and as PM. He created both the economic and political climate. Who was it the lorded over boom and bust (which he claimed to have exorcised). Who was it that used the tactics of a banana republic dictator to get into No 10 and, then, to stay there? Who was it that lorded over any number of smear campaigns, against both members of his own party and of the opposition parties? Who has made corruption a part of daily political life?