Thursday, July 20, 2006

Could Margaret Beckett become PM?

I must confessed I missed this on Comment is Free until Conservative Home helpfully highlighted it this morning, but this is an interesting question which deserves a slightly better answer than the one which Peter Franklin supplies.

Franklin says yes, if Gordon Brown were to be dragged down by Labour infighting and Blairite attempts to find an alternative from within their own ranks fail. I say: still extremely unlikely, even in the event of these other conditions being fulfilled.

I know Beckett reasonably well, as it happens, from my days as Political Correspondent of the Derby Evening Telegraph, her local paper. I have never found her to be anything less than extremely courteous, and for the most part, her career has exhibited that much-prized attribute, of being a "safe pair of hands."

Nevertheless, she has made two crucial errors in the course of her time in frontline politics which I think still, to an extent, define her in terms of her political positioning and which the Tories - and their friends in the media - would relentlessly exploit if she ever assumed the top job.

The second of these I have referred to in my post on John Prescott below. Beckett could easily have become Labour leader in 1994, but threw away her chance by failing to give sufficient backing to the modernising cause.

Much earlier than that, in 1981, she launched a bitter attack on soft-left MPs who had abstained in that year's deputy leadership contest, thereby allowing Denis Healey narrowly to hold off the challenge of Tony Benn.

It was this action that originally earned her the nickname "Stalin's Grandma," an epithet which was also applied to Jo Richardson and has since been appropriated and adapted by a well-known journalist blogger.

They say a week is a long time in politics, but even now, a quarter of a century on, the idea of a 63-year-old former Bennite up against someone with the wide electoral appeal of David Cameron is surely not one that the Labour Party would be wise to contemplate.

My position remains that Brown will comfortably win the Labour leadership, unless the economy suddenly goes belly-up or forthcoming attempts to link him with the cash for honours affair succeed.

Failing that, the job will go to Alan Johnson, or possibly to John Reid, who if nothing else in his brief tenure of the Home Office has demonstrated his extreme political toughness.

But if by then the party is too divided to accept either a Brownite or a Blairite as leader, it won't be Beckett who comes through the middle as the compromise candidate associated with neither side, but the man whose old dad she once so enthusiastically championed.

Step forward, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn.

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BondWoman said...

No David Milliband? Too partisan?

Paul Linford said...


I don't think Miliband is too partisan exactly - he gets on well with Brown and his views are actually well to the left of Blair's. But I think he is very much third in the queue behind Johnson and Reid as the potential Stop Gordon candidate, and I can't see either of those two dropping out to allow him a clear run.

Furthermore, unlike Johnson or Reid, Miliband has categorically said he won't stand against Brown for the leadership. With most politicians you could discount this, but my limited dealings with Miliband suggest to me he is actually more honest than most, and that when he says this, he means it.

Anonymous said...

Beckett won't get it because of her relentless flip-flopping on the party's internal left-right spectrum:
a) Becomes a Bennite MP for Lincoln in the October 74 election, ousting Dick Taverne
b) Accepts a post as Schools Minister, from which Joan Lestor resigned in protest at the IMF cuts
c) Having lost Lincoln, and looking for a new constituency, she becomes a Bennite once more, snarling that Neil Kinnock should contribute 'thirty pieces of silver' to the Tribune rally collection when he dared to abstain in the 81 deputy leadership election
d) Opposes the expulsion of Militant
e) Trims to the right for the second time, coining 'Beckett's law' as a stern Treasury Chief Secretary
f) Trims to the left, trying to stab John Smith in the back re. OMOV by saying the crucial vote on it was a matter for him. In the 94 leadership election, she suggests scrapping the right to pre-strike ballots and secret ballots for trade union elections
g) Trims to the right once more, so much so that Blair sees her as more pliable than Jack Straw, and makes her Foreign Secretary, despite her c**king up farmer's compensation payments at DEFRA (so much for the safe pair of hands tag).

At least the likes of Hodge, Boateng et al changed on the Labour Party's left-right internal spectrum just the once....

The one way the Tories might have won a fifth term in the late 90s was if Smith had had his fatal heart attack in a 96 or 97 GE, and Beckett had (as happened in 94) become party leader in his place.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, e) should have read Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary....

Anonymous said...

Benn would be excellent, and it's a great shame Blair's pathetic pettiness stopped him from enjoying further promotion in the reshsuffle (preferably to the Foreign Office or Defence, where he'd look much more credible than either Beckett or Browne).

Anonymous said...

Stalin's Granny? I thought the term was applied originally to Joan Maynard, Blunkett's predecessor in Sheffield Brightside.

Paul Linford said...

Red Eye - Excellent, if somewhat partial, analysis.

Richard - I think the name has probably been applied to most female Labour politicians over the age of 50.