Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Whatever happens today, Gordon will be challenged

Today is Gordon's Day, and by the end of it we will be probably be hearing all the usual stuff about how the Chancellor has once again underlined his status as a political colossus of modern times and how, as Labour MPs reel from the sheer force and brilliance of his intellect, the likelihood of a leadership challenge has now diminished. But much as I would like to believe that to be the case, I'm afraid I won't believe a word of it.

I make no bones about the fact that I am in the Margaret Beckett camp of people who do not believe a Cabinet-level challenge to Brown for the Labour leadership is either necessary or desirable. I think Gordon has demonstrated over the past 10 years that he is the outstanding candidate, and to hold an election now strikes me as rather akin to the common sporting practice of making the club that finishes top of the league by a wide margin play off against the one finishing a distant second for the sake of generating a bit more excitement for the spectators.

But I readily accept that is not how most people see it - even among visitors to this blog. My current POLL shows that only approximately one sixth of respondents think there should not be a Cabinet-level challenge, and some of them are people who support Michael Meacher or John McDonnell rather than Gordon. There seems to be a consensus in the Labour Party - which I happen not to share - that a serious contest would be useful as opposed to a potentially divisive distraction.

And if that view is becoming widespread in the party, it is even more so in the media. Slowly, the pressure has been building - even among left-leaning pundits - for a serious challenge and when Blair actually goes, that pressure will become intolerable.

The campaign to question Gordon Brown's credentials has been conducted mainly through opinion polls designed to show that he would do worse than Tony Blair in a straight contest with David Cameron, even though practically no-one disputes that Labour's position in the polls is bound to improve when Blair finally quits. This has been accompanied by regular guerilla activity questioning Brown's methods and ways of working with colleagues, culminating in yesterday's Gordon the Stalinist attack by former Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull.

Its aim was to create the conditions in which a challenge became viewed as desirable and I think it has now succeeded in that. In other words, it has created a need for someone to step forward and fill a vacuum, and human nature being what it is, sooner or later someone will do so.

If not David Miliband, then John Reid or Alan Johnson. If not Reid or Johnson, then John Hutton or Hazel Blears. If no member of the Cabinet, then Charles Clarke or Alan Milburn. Even Jack Straw could come into the reckoning as a compromise candidate if the current run of bad polls continues.

The crown is still Brown's to lose, and a good Budget performance this afternoon would make it all the more certain he would win such a contest. But I think he can forget the coronation now. The Blarites - and more importantly their friends in Fleet Street - simply aren't going to let it happen.

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Toque said...

Surely the one mitigating argument against my charge that Gordon Brown has no democratic mandate, is if the Labour caucus elects him as leader in something vaguely resembling a contest (preferrably against non-Scottish opposition).

Otherwise the people of England are getting a Scottish pm foisted upon them with nothing more than a baton change.

We didn't vote for him, and we cannot vote against him. Hell, we didn't even vote Labour in the General Election. And now Brown will lead the executive on English domestic matters when he doesn't even have a democratic remit for those areas in his own country.

And I think a snap-general election is now certainly off the cards.

A contest may not be necessary and desirable to a Brown supporter, but to me it's very necessary.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the great British charade of National Insurance strikes again.

If Brown intends to marry this pointless extra layer of administration so precisely to income tax, presumably he's hoping to lump the two together at some point in the future...leaving the bad news - you've all been paying 11 per cent more tax all along, folks - for his successor to sell to the nation.

Anonymous said...

A very good piece. But if Gordon is selected without a contest then there could be any number of questions about his "legitimacy" as leader and I think the Tories would constantly hark back to deals done with old friends in restaurants, etc. There could be pressure for an early election which we would probably lose. The electorate aren't particularly aware of the customary or legal precedents and have short memories. The Tories had a very successful leadership election that made Cameron’s reputation and prior to that Tony Blair was also selected after a contested campaign. The rumour that I have heard is that Brown himself might prefer a contest and has enough influence over the MPs to ensure that one takes place.

Anonymous said...

Of course we must have a contest. Brown supporters may be delighted at the prospect of a coronation -but thousands of us are horrified. I acccept Brown is hot favourite to win.But I want to have my say and I also want the Britush people to see that there is a left alternative within the Labour Party. If we don';t do this, both the Party and Govt will suffer. I care deeply about Labour's future.Why the hell should Brown be handed the leadership without a fight. It is not a God-given right. 44 nomimnations please for John McDonnell

Anonymous said...


Prezzas friends (and some other ENGLISHmen) are building the base for Prescott's leadership challenge. The approach is going to be strong on humanity (no spreadsheet mechanics wanted as Prime Minister; human beings instead), and will address representation in Europe, as well as Labour/Union politics....