Monday, February 13, 2006
Gordon Brown's Equally 'High Wire' Route to No. 10
a) appear to be loyal to Blair, even when he has severe doubts e.g. over education policy. If he fails in this task he might well lose party support for his own election. If he weakens party unity he will hasten Blair's demise but throw his succession into question.
b) appear to be establishing his own profile and agenda. John Major failed to do this, prefering merely to follow Thatcherite policy tropes and arguably lost much of the momentum his remarkable 1992 victory should have won for him. Brown's speeches at the moment, all scheduled to be on non Treasury matters, are designed to do just that.
c) sustain his stewardship of the economy. It should not be forgotten that his is the key job in any government and after 8 years doing it, he must be feeling the strain- especially with a young child in the house and another on the way.
d) defend himself from crtics. These are found amoung Blairite supporters in his own party who fear their chances of either retaining or acquiring office wil be damaged with Gordon doing the hiring and firing. In addition David Cameron has been relentlessly targetting Brown as a dinosaur obstacle to much needed reform.
If Gordon departs too far from a) in pursuit of b) his balance on the high wire is threatened. If he fails with c) or becomes too prone to d), his chances of even a brief time in Downing St are might fly out of the window.
All this reminds us, as if we needed it, that politics at this level is exhausting and immensely demanding physically, nervously, emotionally and, indeed, intellectually. That BBC2 programme on Blair and the EU on Saturday evening showed Jack Straw struggling at an EU summit to persuade Austria's female foreign minister( so immensely tall she dwarfed him) to allow concessions in her country's oppostition to Turkey's entry to the organisation. Having been immersed in highly detailed discussions thoroughout the summit, Michael Cockerell told us the Foreign Secretary had only thre hours sleep in two days; Straw looked and sounded shattered.
In our often unreal expectations of our politicos we tend to criticise mercilessly before we appreciate just how thanklessly draining these jobs must be. But, I suppose, we shouldn't feel too sorry: they entered this strange world voluntarily; they seem to enjoy- even revel in- its rigours; and should they falter, there are legions of pretenders just waiting to take their place.
A challenge is certain to come from the traditional left of the party, and with two or three such challengers the field is open a bit more. Brown will probably win, but again he could be damaged, and may have to pull off a few deals to secure victory (Lynne Jones for the Deputy Leadership, perhaps). But it's also possible that someone else might get those deals done first.
Why is it assumed that Blair can just hand over the mantle when he feels like it? Aren't there any rules about the election of a leader to take into account?
Even if Brown is very popular and would emerge as favourite, surely there is a ballot or selection process of some kind to be gone through first.
What are the Labour Party rules on this issue? i think we should be told.
That's more than one question, I know ...
Yes, there are procedures laid down. There will have to be a contest for the succession as in the case of when Callaghan took over from Wilson in 1976, or indeed, in the Conservative case, when Major succeeded Maggie. It is by no means assured that Gordon will smoothly move into the driving seat as I expect there to be at the very least a leftie challenger. Brown could deal with that but a more centrist fellow candidate like Reid or Hain, would cause him headaches. Just getting Tony to stand down is only the start of Gordon's quest, I fear.
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