Sunday, September 10, 2006

 

Brown and 'Parkinson's Law'

I once talked to Cecil Parkinson for a research project I am still to write up(memo to self- 'get on with it!')in which he spoke of his 'Parkinson's Law'. Not the one about work expanding to fill the time available, but his own personal one: 'The people are prepared to give you what you deserve, but not what you want.' It's quite good -probably culled from his own career where his grasp arguably exceeded his reach- but it now seems to be wonderfully applicable to Gordon Brown. In his interview with Andrew Marr this morning Brown did his best, as Ann McElvoy put it 'to appear as a normal human being'. But I felt he was being disingenuous for much of the time.

He denied having anything to do with the attempted 'coup' but as shrewd newsmen piece together the anatomy of Labour's worst week since they came into power, events seem too choreographed; how come, for example, that the resigning PPSs did so at such regular intervals last Wednesday? This must have been pre-arranged. And the news that Tom Watson, a major Brown buddy, actually visited Brown's home 24 hours before the letter was sent, suggests Brown was in the know and gave his support, even if only tacitly. Watson arrived, it was claimed, to deliver presents to to the newly arrived baby- oh yeah....? Brown admitted being aware only of 'speculation and rumour' regarding the letter. I'm sure it was more than that. He also claimed he spoke out against the letter which sparked off the implosion but I assume he meant behind the scenes which, as he knows, is scarcely what was needed.

No, we have to accept now that Brown, though maybe not the author of the plot, was a party to it and a keen supporter to boot. However I think I accept his explanation that his 'grin of triumph' was merely the result of an aside to his aide Sue Nye and was related to his new son. It's ironic that a man who is accused of not smiling enough, should be accused of triumphalism when he does manage to crack his face into one. But the biggest irony of the week is that Brown has been damaged more than Blair by the end of it. By attracting the fire of Blairites and non Blairites alike for his suspect skulduggery, he now faces a contest which he might have avoided plus the taint on his character which his behaviour has earned. The worst effect of this has been that he has confirmed so many doubts which former ministers, Labour MPs as well as party activists have long harboured.

As I mentioned yesterday, I now think Alan Johnson is well placed to run Brown a close second, if not actually defeat him. Frontrunners in leadership contests have a habit of not winning- think Ken Clarke, think David Davis. Also think John Major, a little known minister with an unorthodox but interesting socio-political provenance and a virtual tabula rasa of a political position who emerged out of the political background to lift the crown. Johnson offers similar credentials and in addition carries none of the baggage of new Labour's mistakes. He could become prime minister and give the impression, as Major did, of providing a completely new government. If all elements of the party cotton onto that, Johnson could be catapulted into the top job with acclaim.

He may be hesitating whether to stand right now but I'm virtually certain the realization that the iron is hot and ready for him to strike will in the end prove irrestistible. After all, he is a politician. Returning to 'Parkinson's Law', Brown's had what he deserved; he may find that he is denied what he most dearly, and desperately, wants.

Comments:
Ah, but Clarke, Davis, Hesiltine etc are all Tories; the favourite doesn't win Tory leadership contests very often, but nearly always does with Labour ones.
 
I felt uncomfortable watching the Brown interview, as I didn't believe a word he said. I think he did attempt a coup this week and succeeded in getting Blair to admitting to leave office within the next year but I think he has also 'sh*t in his own nest', as they say. I am fairly certain that at the moment I couldn't vote for Brown to be leader of the party. Alan Johnson could be someone of interest, though I wonder about his image when compared to young Master David esq.
 
Al
Agree it's different, but wasn't Gordon once the frontrunner to replace Smith?
DN
Agree Brown seemed to be acting- and not too convincingly. Johnson will have a perfect Labour image compared to the toff Dave. I'm thinking of putting £25 on him as the odds can only shorten
 
I can't see Johnson winning. As you said the other day, he has no enemies in the PLP - he may have friends, but he has no supporters. Those who've come into contact with him during his ministerial career have come away with the impression of someone who is just a lackey - very nice, with his heart in the right place, but not someone of an independent mind. A major criicism being levelled at Brown is that he's duckd important issus and people don't know what he stands for - that's even more true of Johnson, as his ministerial tack (even as a Cabinet minister) has been to rebuff people by telling them it's not up to him and he'll have to check with his superiors (usually meaning Blair).

Fundamentally, he's come across as weak - and that's probably because he is. That he's dithering now emphasises the point - he has no urge to stand himself, he's being prodded by Blair and his circle into doing it, because they don't really have anyone else. On top of that, I can't see the unions wearing it - his own union has pretty much forbidden the very mention of his name and others will clock that and act accordingly. Johnson simply has no base, so he'd be the media candidate - that worked, of course, for Blair (and for David Cameron), but I don't think it'll work in this instance.
 
I'm in a dilemma as there is no way I am backing Milburn or Reid. I am furious with Brown for the way he has behaved over the last 10 days. Alan Johnson is good but his policies on top up fees, trust schools leave much to be desired. And some of McDonnell's policies would cause a huge run on the pound if he was elected PM.
 
Gregg
I suspect people said something similar about Major- it's quite an advantage to leave your policy positions open. You say he also seems weak- as indeed Major arguably proved to be- but we'll have to see if there is some inner steel to the guy. His background of emerging from extreme hardship suggests he might have suchg a core to him
 
Hmm. I think the John Major precedent is likely to prove something of a double-edged sword in this context. Yes, he won, but he was (to paraphrase John Hutton) "an absolute fucking disaster." The Tories would have been much better off choosing the frontrunner (Heseltine), and if Labour is going to learn anything from that episode it will do the same and elect Brown.

Al is right by the way that the frontrunner always wins Labour leadership contests. There is but one exception to this rule since the second world war, and that was when Foot overhauled Healey to take the crown in 1980. All the other leadership contests have been won the man who started out favourite - Gaitskell in 1955, Wilson in 1963, Callaghan in 1976, Kinnock in 1983, Smith in 1992, Blair in 1994.
 
Paul
Yes, frontrunners do win in Labour elections; my point was that Brown was assumed to be above Blair in the hierarchy but leapfrogged him once the contest was joined. Political parties do tend to go a bit bonkers during leadership changes and I think Johnson might well be the beneficiary of this emotional turbulence. Problem with leaps in the dark is that they can leave you in the mire eg Major; but sometimes, as in the case of Churchill, who was seen as something of a madman by many in his party in 1940 and wholly inappropriate, it works out brilliantly.
 
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