Woodward: turmoil in the cabinet my arse
I feel soiled somehow. This morning listening to the Today programme on Radio 4, I suddenly realised I was vehemently in agreement with Shaun Woodward. Having just finished my breakfast, you can imagine the uncomfortable position this put me in. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a member of this cabinet sound so righteously ‘on message’ just when it felt like what was needed, rather than being utterly disingenuous.
Allow me to backtrack and explain. Everyone will have heard by now that Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon sent an email around the PLP wittering about a secret ballot on the leadership. Naturally no one touched it. In fact it has been received with almost universal derision on the Left, despite the attempts of all sections of the Press to parlay it into something more serious than it is.
The argument runs that, because cabinet ministers waited a few hours before putting out statements of support, it may be that the ‘coup’ was more serious than it at first seems. Indeed the BBC seems to have got hold of information that half a dozen cabinet members tentatively supported the ‘rebels’, but they ‘bottled it’. Woodward was little short of decisive in crushing the rumour and putting focus back where it belonged.
He called into question the judgment of Hoon and Hewitt – rightly so – and then returned to Brown’s masterful hammering of Cameron at PMQs yesterday, on the continuing failure of the Tories to have a consistent economic policy (or a consistent answer to the same question when it’s asked three times on the same day for that matter). The sad little coup, of course, gives the Right-media the excuse they need to miss this out.
“Has Labour got a death wish? Two ex-cabinet ministers mount abortive coup, inflicting yet more damage on the PM” is the headline on the Mail online today, and though I missed the full details, the dead tree copy is running something similarly hyperbolic. Below the headline, Peter Oborne’s article is called, “Labour is now so riven by poison, we’re being run by two rival governments. And neither cares about Britain”. Subtle stuff.
It is the media who will inflict the damage on Brown, rather than the ‘abortive coup’. By leading off with headlines on the subject, stressing the divisions within Labour and how important they are – and no doubt repeating the Tory meme that this makes Labour unelectable – the press will be propagating a story that is damaging but clearly has little relation to the reality within the PLP, which for once seems broadly united.
Trying to read the tea-leaves of why David Miliband didn’t issue a statement of support for Brown for a few hours is simply not an acceptable replacement for real journalism. Even if everyone was lukewarm, there’s not going to be a coup. If the government simply absorbed the shock and replaced cabinet ministers in the premature June 2009 ‘coup’, and then took a crushing election result on the chin, a few windbags mouthing off in an email, even with cabinet support, is hardly going to make much of a ripple.
What journalists don’t seem to be flagging up, however, is that it’s the same faces involved in these ‘coups’. Blairites and ex-Blairites, maybe a few Brownites who haven’t adjusted to the changed economic realities of higher taxation and higher expenditure levels. Not people, it must be said, who have much respect in the Party, having long since fallen from grace. Certainly not a lot of respect amongst members.
I’m not a supporter of Gordon Brown or New Labour, but the vulturous attacks of these discredited, demoted fools – time and again from wings of the Party even less in favour than Brown – are just sickening and embarrassing. Bearing in mind that Labour’s defeat is still assumed to be all but inevitable, we can only hope for a pro-Labour hung parliament – these antics are thus far from helpful. But we must not get sucked into Press attempts at clairvoyance and second-guessing who loves Gordon Brown and what real or imagined policy differences there are..
The key thing to focus on is policy; Labour is terrible, the Tories are worse.