Saturday, June 28, 2008

Will they stick their heads above the parapet this time?

Column published in today's Newcastle Journal looking at Gordon's staggeringly great result in Henley. Not.


One of the most enjoyable events in the party conference season is the quaintly-named Glee Club, a sort of semi-drunken community sing-song that occurs on the last night of the Liberal Democrats’ annual shindig.

There is a certain amount of black humour involved for the Lib Dems – the song lyrics mainly consist of self-mocking references to past political failures.

One of my favourites is the one which goes “Losing deposits, losing deposits, who’ll come-a-losing deposits with me?” to the tune of Waltzing Matilida.

They don’t sing that one at the Labour conference. But then again, the Labour Party doesn’t normally do lost deposits.

Well, the party didn’t just lose its deposit in Thursday’s Henley by-election, it contrived to finish fifth behind the British National Party and the Greens.

As an anniversary present to mark Gordon Brown’s first year in 10 Downing Street yesterday, it was probably about as welcome as a bucket of cold sick.

It was, by any objective criteria, the most embarrassing by-election result for a major party since David Owen’s “continuing SDP” finished seventh behind the Official Monster Raving Loony Party at Bootle in 1990.

The SDP was duly wound-up soon afterwards. The question is: will Gordon Brown’s premiership suffer the same fate?

To some extent, we’ve been here before. Five weeks ago, people were asking precisely the same question in the wake of the Crewe and Nantwich by election, which saw Labour defeated on a 17.6pc swing.

Many anticipated that over the course of the ensuing week, a senior party figure would break ranks and move against Mr Brown.

Some predicted that Charles Clarke or Alan Milburn would spearhead the revolt, others that Justice Secretary Jack Straw would hand Mr Brown the pearl-handed revolver.

In the event, none of it happened. But this time round, it could just be different.

I sensed then that the prevailing mood in the party in the immediate aftermath of Crewe and Nantwich was that they needed another leadership contest like a hole in the head.

Instead, they wanted to give Mr Brown the chance to turn things around, although there was acknowledgement that he would have to be able to point to some tangible improvements by the autumn at the latest.

A month or so on, though, the mood among Labour MPs appears to have hardened.

There now seems to be a much more widespread view in the PLP that Mr Brown is now so badly damaged that the party cannot win so long as he remains in charge.

For what it’s worth, I am one of a declining number of people who actually think the Prime Minister could yet pull it out of the bag – though I admit it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances.

It would probably require him to be dramatically vindicated on an issue of such importance that the public was forced to reassess its view of him.

One such instance could be the kind of improvement in the economy that would restore Mr Brown’s now badly-tarnished reputation as a brilliant economic manager.

Another might be a terrorist attack so serious that the other two main parties were made to look foolish in their opposition to Mr Brown’s plans to lock up terror suspects for 42 days.

But both of these are unlikely scenarios. A much more probable outcome is that the Brown administration will either limp on and on to inevitable defeat – or that the party will finally bite the bullet and replace him.

For that to happen, it will first require someone to do what Tom Watson, Kevan Jones et al did in the autumn of 2006, and place their heads above the parapet.

Durham North MP Mr Jones was one of the signatories of a round-robin letter calling on the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to set out a timetable for his departure.

Mr Watson aside, the so-called “coup” failed to spark the anticipated wave of ministerial resignations, but it did ultimately succeed in forcing Mr Blair to cut his premiership short.

Were a minister to resign now on the grounds that he or she could not support Mr Brown’s continued leadership, it would surely do for the Prime Minister.

By bringing the whole issue of the leadership to a head, it would almost certainly spark off a domino-effect which would reach all the way up to the senior levels if the Cabinet.

Increasingly, attention is being focused on Foreign Secretary and South Shields MP David Miliband as the man who, potentially, can save the party from a general election rout.

I personally remain to be convinced that he wants the job. But if he does want it, I think it’s probably now his to lose.

What is certainly the case is if there is to be a change of leadership, it would be better for Labour were that to happen sooner rather than later.

Some fatalists in the party advance the view that it would be better to let Mr Brown take the rap for the next election defeat so a new leader can start afresh with a clean slate.

But it’s bunkum. If there is the slightest chance that Labour can yet renew itself in office by turning to someone who can meet the electorate’s desire for change, they would be mad not to take it.

After all, they certainly don’t want to go a-losing deposits again if they can help it.

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Anonymous said...

Dear Paul

Cry the Beloved Country

This has gone beyond personalities - it matters NOT which MonoChrome Lilliputian resides in No 10

The Government has spent so much money (over-taxed & over-borrowed) that it has NO room for manoeuvre

... and is left with only Cosmetic Gimmicks

eg Mrs Jack Dromey's latest Equality/Anti-Discrimination Bill to make it lawful to discriminate against British Middle-Aged Men in favour of Wimmin & Ethnic Minorities

eg Mrs Ed Balls'(or is that Mrs Derek Gadd's) absurd HIPS Regulations that are yet another factor shoving the Housing Market into collapse

Que faire - when we see UK unemployment levels rising, as we are going to see in the coming months

Yr obedt servant etc


Stephen said...

I still think that the best way forward right now would be if Gordon acquired some fortuitous illness that required him to step down. He'd depart with at least some dignity, and the relief of the public would be accompanied by a certain degree of sympathy for Labour, who need to make sure they get their choice of leader right next time round.

Anonymous said...

And if a new leader were to take over say over the summer - are you seriously saying that labour could avoid a General Election? TWO changes of leadership without an election? Will any new leader possess a magic wand to waft away the results of 11 years of incompetence?
Or will the country have to endure 2 years of scorched earth policies under say the infantile marxist scion Milliband?

Change Leader and call election and be defeated. Keep Leader and endure election in 2 years and be defeated - thats Labours choice.

As for your 'golden scenarios'. Economic vindication - in your dreams. Get this ... 'Browns to blame for this mess'. He cocked up Northern Rock, he has overspent to the tune of 40 billion and rising, he is responsinble for govt waste.

Terrorist attrocity - who is in charge of security - the conservatives? For Christ sake it your lot the govt of the day the govt who cannot deport rabble rousers the govt which lose terrorists on bail.

Just how, HOW, does the holding of suspect for an extra fortnight , a suspect already captured, help stop FUTURE atrocities. Its intelligence which does that and 42 days will just bog off the muslims who might provide it. Thanks for proving that 42 days was all grandstanding.

Err, old boy WAKE UP.

Letters From A Tory said...

People who think Gordon Brown are good for the Labour Party are indeed a dying breed.

Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Maybe a GE now, with a decent leader such as Alan Johnson or John Hutton, would do the party less damage than a GE in two years' time with an even more battered and unpopular Gordon Brown as leader. Better a Tory majority of 50-100 than what could be the worst Labour defeat since 1935.

As for a terrorist attack vindicating Brown on 42 days, I don't think so. Despite the Tory opposition to 42 days, polls show that a majority of respondents think the Tories are tougher on terrorism than Labour. I suspect that this is the old contamination effect, from which the Tories used to suffer (where a Tory policy would meet warm approval, but then see its approval halve when the poll respondents found out it was a Tory policy).

MorrisOx said...

I wouldn't hold my head above the parapet - not without a tin hat on, anyway.

A marvellous backgrounder in the FT on Saturday discloses the Prime Minister's anger-fuelled penchant for hurling staplers around when he experiences one of his regular rages.

In one, it is said, he grabbed the stapler so hard he managed to staple himself.

This chums, is the man who is 'running' the country. His rages are the reason why so many of the people who followed him from the Treasure are now running away.

According to Number Ten, they are laving because they were all part of a 'transition' team.

It isn't losing deposits Labour needs to worry about. It's one man losing the plot.

Ben said...

But it's bunkum: discontented Labour MPs looking for a scapegoat, foolishly imagining that they can blame Gordon Brown for everything.

These are the same people, by and large, who a few months ago thought he was the saviour of their party.

They still don't understand: it's not the leader who's the problem, it's the whole corrupt, smug, incompetent, petty, short-sighted lot of them the electorate wants to be rid of.