Tuesday, March 14, 2006

 

So 'Ramsay McBlair' it appears to be then

It hurts a bit to say one is wrong, but if one obsessively watches what Julian Critchley called the 'spectator sport' of politics, one has to get used to it. I was sure that as the acid test of vote on the Education Bill approached, the Labour rebels would review their situation, calculate the damage a defeat or an 'assisted victory' might inflict, both on their chances of re-election and the immanent Brown regime, and decide to row swiftly back from the precipice. BBC and Guardian surveys of intending voting MPs reveal this is unlikely to happen and that this flagship Blairite 'legacy' issue will be passed only with Conservative assistance.

The scar of the McDonald betrayal, as Martin Kettle reminded us in his Guardian column 11th March, is such that Blair's remaining time in office will be tough if this comes to pass. As he also points out, 'Failure to carry your own party turns out not to be fatal any more.' It really seems the unthinkable is about to happen and a version of the Great Betrayal is about to be reprised. Of course, the Conservatives might take this likelihood on board and pull out the rug at the last moment on the grounds the bill have been diluted too much to win over the rebels. But, according to David Willets, this is not due to happen.

So what happens next? Blair might decide, I suppose, to cash in on this source of parliamentary support and push through other measures his party cannot stomach though, at present, it's hard to see what they might be. The rebels might decide to challenge their leader. For this to occur a challenger would need the support of 20 per cent of the PLP( it used to be only 5 per cent until Benn challenged Kinnock in the early eighties) and then two thirds of the annaul conference has to approve the contest. [Could the annual conference be brought forward for such a vote? I don't know.] Then the electoral college would stride onto the stage to mount a battle royal and one likely to weaken Labour for the foreseeable future. Labour was out of power as the party forming government for fourteen years after Ramsay's betrayal- if Blair were downed, they could be lookng at a similar period back in the wilderness.

Appreciating this, the rebels might either: a) decide to support Blair on the vote; b) deny him support on the bill but accept the McDonaldite pact on this issue; c) accept Blair could thereafter stay in office with Conservative support as a fact of life. Optrions b) and c) would take our politics into uncharted territory and be quite fascinating for those of us who are fascinated. But the public division caused might well scupper Gordon's big chance and lifelong ambition of serving a full term, after 2009, as his country's Labour prime minister.

Comments:
The difference is that MacDonald only carried a minority of the Labour Party with him (only 15 "National Labour" MP's after the 1931 election, Labour - even in a bad year - had 52). In contrast, 274 "New Labour" drones obediently trooped into the lobby to support the Education Bill with only 52 voting against and another 23 abstaining). Many who voted for the Bill presumably did so reluctantly but vote they did. Of course, this is seriously embarrassing for Blair - and it is obvious that the "fag-end" of Blairism cannot continue smouldering for much longer. But the comparison with MacDonald is overdrawn.
 
Well, it depends what happens from now on Politaholic. If he continues to use Tory votes to trounce his own rebels then a de facto alliance with the Tories could be said to exist. And remember what happened in 1931, when Ramsay compounded his betrayal by leading an extension of his National Government which all but wiped out the Labour Party.
 
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