Thursday, June 22, 2006

Labour leadership contest is now a certainty

The BBC leads most of its bulletins this morning with the story that Gordon Brown has committed himself to a replacement for Trident if he becomes Prime Minister.

Some appear to be wondering why this is a story at all. Surely it's just a senior Government minister making clear that he supports existing Government policy?

Well, I reckon they're missing the point. The reason this is a story is because there are quite a few people out there in the Labour Party who thought, perhaps naively, that Prime Minister Brown might turn out to take a different view on the replacement of Trident and other nuclear-related matters.

What I think is really interesting about this story - and no-one really seems to have picked up on this yet - is that it makes a Labour leadership challenge from the anti-nuclear, Meacherite left an absolute racing certainty.

Now here's the rub. Until now, it has been generally assumed that Mr Brown wanted an uncontested election, or an "orderly transition" as it is usually described.

I reckon that's wrong, and that the Chancellor has decided he would benefit much more from a contest in which he can define himself as the natural inheritor of the New Labour mantle in opposition to a challenge from the old left.

By making clear his views on Trident at this early stage, he has given the left the perfect cause on which to mount such a challenge - perfect both in the sense that their feelings about nuclear weapons make it inevitable that they will take it up, and in the sense that it portrays Brown as in touch with mainstream opinion in the country.

All Gordon has to worry about now is whether the Blairites will be convinced by this display of loyalty, or whether they will, in the end, decide to run Alan Johnson against him.

Update 1: Clare Short has now made my point for me, by saying she will no longer support Gordon Brown for the leadership, and that there should be a contest.

Update 2: My most recent column looking at the Labour leadership issue, written earlier this week, is published today in the North West Enquirer.

Update 3: Ben Rooney has included this post in today's Guardian round-up of what's on the web - the second time this blog has been featured!

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Anonymous said...

very interesting. i think you're probably bang on as well.

Anonymous said...

Brown will probably be very happy that he's just lost the support of Clare Short. He wasn't going to give her a job anyway. And it fits in with the strategy Paul outlines, that of provoking a contest with the Labour left (which he'll hope to win by a handsome margin) to show Middle England that he isn't as much to the left of Blair as supposed (or, indeed, at all to Blair's left).

The strategy might yet end with Brown falling between two stools. Middle England might dislike his Scottishness (or, at least, all the clumsy efforts to compensate, like saying have a Union Flag in every garden) and any repeat of his ill-informed intervention in the Laura Spence affair, while disillusioned Labour voters might get fed up over his support for Trident and (unless he scraps them when/if he becomes PM) ID cards.

It certainly doesn't bode well that he's taking advice from Robert Schrum. Schrum's score-card is eight presidential elections, of which he's won none. Brown's latest efforts to look half-human (like asking us to believe that he listens to the Artic Monkeys in the morning) look just as clumsy and contrived as the ones (like the alpha male stunts such as standing over Bush in the presidential debates) which helped Gore lose in 2000 (Florida really shouldn't have mattered when the VP had peace, prosperity and incumbency in his favour).

Bob Piper said...

The danger for Brown is that if the left contest the election as well as someone like Alan Johnson... where does the left vote go in the event their candidate is knocked out first. If it was Alan he still has allies in the trade union section of the ballot. I'm beginning to think either gordon has cocked up, or the ace manipulator next door still has a card to play.

Anonymous said...

That's a good point, Bob. It may be that the more thoughtful lefties think that Brown will have to (or want to) be more Blairite than Blair to re-assure Middle England, whereas Johnson, having more pukka Blairite credentials, won't have so much to prove.

I remember that, in his Diaries, Tony Benn muses that dealing with Callaghan might be easier than dealing with Wilson because Callaghan, with his reputation as a right-winger, wouldn't have to crack down on the left so much as Wilson (once labelled by the Gaitskellite right as 'Nye's little dog' and 'a crook').

What's more, Johnson can smooth ruffled feathers, as he did as Higher Education spokesman (usually smoothing those ruffled by Clarke). Brown's attitude, by contrast, is very much that of George W Bush, 'you're either with me or against me'. Even Alistair Darling found himself removed from a circulation list for documents after the almighty crime of querying one of Brown's arguments in a meeting. Brown after Blair may well be like Chamberlain after Baldwin, a dour undertaker following a vicar, and a much bigger control freak.