Home > Labour Party News > A train wreck in slow motion…

A train wreck in slow motion…

Gordon Brown

Is Gordon Brown’s premiership disintegrating? So says the Guardian and when even New Labour’s own rag starts talking like that, you can bet we’re in trouble. Yet one wonders as to how it is disintegrating. Brown has a clear majority in parliament. No one has emerged to challenge him from within the PLP and, provided Brown actually pulls his finger out and actually does something of note, I think it’s unlikely that anybody will.

Still, all the signs of a government in trouble are very clearly there. The opinion polls after the election that never was. Frank Field, pipsqueak parliamentarian at large, talking back to the Dear Leader Mk II? That was very evidently a crack in the facade. Then the elections went awry…as the count came in, the utter devastation of the Labour Party became clear. Then came the Crewe and Nantwich disaster.

Piece by piece, this government seems to be disintegrating. The simplest of questions still resounds in my head with every new piece I read on the subject. Why?

Was it the 10p tax debacle or was it Darling’s back-tracking after it? Was it the campaign of slanders which Labour’s media circus ran against Boris, followed by the thingy-is-a-toff campaign? Now Graham Stringer is openly advocating a cabinet coup and even the Labour Peers are getting tetchy. Is all this really about the price of a loaf of bread? That’s what Deborah Matinson’s polling indicated just after Christmas.

The very Party apparatus is in chaos; Harriet Harman in charge of the vacant chairmanship portfolio among fifteen different other things, PR supremo Stephen Carter apparently got ‘elbowed out’ of the recent parliamentary election campaign and apparently Victoria Street and Downing Street aren’t exactly on speaking terms with each other. What the hell is going on?

Is there no policy around which the parliamentary party will unite? The answer is of course ‘no.’ Privatisation now carries with it an impressive and odious stench. Foreign policy, for all of Miliblair’s panache, still reminds people that our troops are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you’re left wing you think, “Bloody imperialists,” and if you’re right wing you think “Where’s the proper equipment for our boys?”

Immigration has begun to transform itself into a pole for opposition to the government as highlighted by Fiona MacTaggart’s most recent article for Progress. ‘Tough on terror’ looks likely to reward Labour with little but resounding criticism for pursuing the 42-days detention lunacy. With prisons overflowing and oil prices now stretching out past the Moon, is it any wonder, we’re not connecting on crime or the economy.

What’s left? Certainly not Labour’s inglorious performance on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Probably the best figure to emerge out of the debates on abortion was John Bercow, a Conservative!

Meanwhile, all the gutter-snipes, who were rarely seen whenever mountainous opposition to the policies of the leadership actually mattered to the movement, have been cashing in on the doomsday prophecies with media appearances.

I’m no friend of the government – at every opportunity I’ve endeavoured to provide consistent and considered criticism of the policies and principles of this government with which I disagree. Yet the opportunistic opposition now emerging from within the middle ranks of the PLP is positively shocking. I have to wonder, how long can it continue before we really do have our “John Redwood moment”?

Can someone please convince me that the current leadership – and all the potential challengers, who are much of a muchness – have not completely exhausted whatever limited potential they ever had when they set out in 1997?

Categories: Labour Party News
  1. Pete
    May 26, 2008 at 12:20 am

    “Is Gordon Brown’s premiership disintegrating?”

    Pope? Catholic? Bear? Woods?

    Would you really call The Guardian New Labour’s own? I thought that would be The Times, although granted I haven’t read either for a while.

    I’ve got to say, I wholly buy into the idea that Gordon Brown’s big problem is simply not being Blair. Yes he has no big ideas, but compared to Blair that’s a blessing. All he can manage is cut-price Blairism, but the thing with Blairism is that it needed Blair to pull it off.

    Part of the reason for this is Blair’s natural charisma, which Brown simply lacks. Blair would never give a straight apology and in a twisted fashion people respected that. He clearly believed in what he did and people seemed to accept that as insurance for a surprisingly long time.

    Another part I would explain by analogy with Zimbabwe, and please don’t read any more into the analogy than I intend! If Mugabe was replaced by someone who did exactly the same things, I imagine he would lose support pretty quickly. Mugabe is a revolutionary hero and that gives him a lot of support despite his actual policies. Similarly, Blair was the figure of the 1997 coup: “Things can only get better” and all that. People saw him as the saviour to lead us away from collapsed Thatcherism and the Thatcherism-lite of Major. Brown just doesn’t have that history.

    In fact, similarly Thatcher was the saviour to lead us from the Winter of Discontent. That continued to give her a special pull over the electorate which just disappeared with Major. Brown is suffering from Major syndrome.

    Incidentally, I don’t think the cycle of ‘saviour’ and ‘poor copy’ will continue in this way. Cameron’s going to win, but only because people are so sick of Labour as to crave an alternative. I think we have a more cynical public who see Cameron as promising less than Blair did in 1997. If he actually wanted to pull off the saviour trick he would have to go for something (apparently) radically different. Instead he’s playing it safe, so I don’t think he will benefit like Thatcher and Blair did before him. Once Labour becomes electable again, I imagine he’ll be kicked out as soon as possible, at least if he’s as bad as he looks.

    Hmm, quite a ramble there. Well, they’re my thoughts anyway.

  2. May 26, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    The Times has been loved-up with Cameron on and off for quite a while. Particularly since the Conservative Party conference last year, when the Conservatives came out calling for an election (probably because they knew Brown wouldn’t call one) the Times has begun to shift back towards the Tories. The Guardian has always been New Labour’s paper. It wasn’t until the Iraq war that people actually began mentioning that there just MIGHT be some things to criticise the government about.

    Unlike you, I don’t buy into the nonsense about charisma. Undeniably some of the problem is down to how the government have handled certain issues – and the noticeable lack of a strong personality to guide things. When the 10p tax thing became an issue, Gordon seemed to hide behind a lot of his ministers – but I think that’s a relatively minor issue.

    Some of the blame has to be set with the press, who have whipped up a media furore whenever very little has actually changed between Blair and Brown. There’s a difference between perceptions and reality, and I think the perception created by the media is influencing the reality.

    As people hear talk of Labour’s ‘failures’ the opinion polls start to go askew: as ministers hear the opinions begin to turn, they begin to look to their own future. Even parliamentarians such as those mentioned in the article, who rarely step out of line, are feeling desperate enough to speak out. Which is in turn being used to feed the media frenzy about a government in crisis.

    Do the electorate really believe in ‘saviours’? I don’t think so. The movement which propelled Blair to power was coming with or without Blair. It might have come in 1997 with Smith in charge, or it might have come later with someone else – but either way, it was coming. This isn’t intelligible merely from the point of view of the role of the individual – but then you already knew I was going to say that.

    The Conservatives are still the natural party of capital. With Labour having successfully navigated the country through the rising discontent of the 1990’s and then the post-Iraq invasion debacle, I don’t doubt that many people see it as high time the New Labour experiment ended and the country was returned to the proper holders of respectable, capitalist government.

    As they say, the best government to carry through attacks on welfare and standards is a Labour government because it divides the movement. Having thus so discredited itself, it is now safe if such attacks continue under a Conservative government. In the 1980’s, Labour was equally discredited, though for different reasons – and not necessarily for the reasons the “1983 Suicide Note” brigade consistently resort to spouting.

    Bottom line, I think this goes far beyond Gordon’s personality. If Tony was still in charge, we might have held on a little longer or discontent might have reached fever pitch inside the party. Either way, we’d still be in dire straits and it as a result not of personality but of the class nature of the leadership and their self-conceived role vis-a-vis the working class.

  3. Pete
    May 26, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    “Do the electorate really believe in ’saviours’? I don’t think so. The movement which propelled Blair to power was coming with or without Blair. It might have come in 1997 with Smith in charge, or it might have come later with someone else – but either way, it was coming.”

    Absolutely, Labour were going to win (just as Cameron will probably win) out of tiredness with the previous government. But do you think Brown could have led Labour to such an epic victory? He is absolutely incapable of capturing the public imagination!

    And as I said, it *is* about more than personality. It’s about having been there at the head of the overthrow of the previous Government. Had Blair hung on, New Labour might well have been able to squeeze out another victory. As it is, Brown looks like Blair-lite without the appeal. And that’s how we get to the situation today.

    (For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt the press’ role in all this.)

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