Thursday, September 07, 2006
Is it a Coup or not a Coup?
So, it's started. Read the reports of the action and you have to believe Polly Toynbee's diagnosis of civil war is close to being on the money. It reminds me so much of the drama that was late November 1990 when Maggie met her end. It's hard to say she was toppled by a coup- many insist she was though surely what happened was not coordinated?- but are we witnessing a coup here? Toynbee quotes a senior Blair aide as insisting that we are, going on to cite the connections between Tom Watson and Brown as well as the letter signatories and ties back to Brown. To cap it all, he claimed, close Brown ally Doug Henderson had set up a TV crew in his garden to enable him to call for Blair to go by next spring in the wake of the resignation announcements. I saw one of the resigners, Khalid Mahmood, on Newsnight deny any contact with Brown and just about believed him. We'll have to wait a long time to discover the real story I'm sure but a couple of things from yesterday what provide pointers.
Firstly Brown has clearly taken the gloves off. We learn that he met Blair twice yesterday and that the air was thick with rancour with Brown accusing Blair of 'blackmail' and worse and Blair responding in kind. Secondly, Brown did not emerge to repudiate any of the criticisms of Blair or utter a word in his defence; his silence was the most eloquent aspect of what Patrick Wintour called the 'most astonishing day in the annals of New Labour'. But does standing back and not helping a rival under attack constitute orchestrating a coup? It's a nice debating point.
It now seems clear Blair misjudged the depth of revulsion in the PLP to his Bushalike Lebanon policy. This discontent seemed to be invested with all the other frustrations caused in recent months combined with appalling poll figures suggesting Labour might lose the next election. Blair could and should have moved more surely to defuse the looming crisis instead of assuming a lofty refusal to compromise would still the disquiet. Now he risks reaping the whirlwind and a situation wholly out of his control.
That wonderful old loyalist, Gerald Kaufman, speaks up for the cause by recalling the depths from which Blair raised up the defeated party of 1992 and emphasizing its achievements. He is right, of course, but he seems to have forgotten Iraq and the Lebanon and the damage Blair's obsession with aping Bush have inflicted on the party. Blair got away with it by ignoring calls from his won party but now is paying the price. Other loyal voices will join him over the next few days and there is still much to play for. But as so many commentators are now saying the damage to Labour's future prospects could prove woefully longterm. As a political junkie, I love the drama but as a Labour Party member, I do rather despair.
I'm just beginning to suspect also, that Brown might be overplaying his hand. According to Blairites, Brown demanded public endorsement of his candidacy from Blair as well as a 'repudiation of the idea of a fundamental debate about the Labour party's future'. That seems like a couple of demands too far and evokes a mood a bit too much like his infant son in the picture above. The Guardian asks the question, why didn't Blair sack Brown? Surely he had been more 'disloyal, discourteous and wrong' as the junior minister Blair said he was in any case going to sack before he resigned? The truth is that Blair's position is now so tenuous that such a decisive blow against his bitter enemy would promptly bring about his own demise.
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