Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

Rebels could Stymie Brown's Premiership


The piece by declared leadership hopeful(pictured), John McDonnell MP, in the Guardian today begins with the lapidary statement- 'Governments running out of steam do not shape events, they react to them.'. He goes on to detail his own Queens Speech wish list of measures which would make the dour Chancellor even gloomier as he anticipates how his time in Number 10 might consist of reacting to events caused by his party's dissenting leftwing. We learn from my fellow political scientists Phil Cowley and Mark Stuart today a number of things about rebellions in the PLP. Firstly that at 28 percent of votes in the Commons from May 2005 until now Labour MPs have clocked up a record percentage of rebellions, with McDonnell, on 63, as champion rebel.

We also learn that the majority of such rebellions have been by the same core group which has been cocking a snook at Blair since the early days of New Labour. Some predicted - though not these cleverly prescient authors- that the smaller post 2005 majority would act a brake on dissent- just as it did when Wilson nursed his 1964 majority of 6 through until the 1966 election. It seems that once learnt, the habit of rebellion becomes a habit which, like smoking or heroin, is desperately hard to lose .

It is highly unlikely to fade away under a Brown premiership. McDonnell, the working class (but university educated) chairman of the Campaign Group and the Labour Representation Committee (formed in 2004 and now boasting 800 members), presents a manifesto which would cause a committee room full of whips months of sleepless nights. After waiting ten long years to achieve the pinnacle of his ambition, poor Gordon is going to inherit a bed of nails designed by the Hayes and Harlington MP and his confreres which will limit his chances of adding to the 114,366 pages of legislation passed by his neighbour since 1997.

And if he cannot make his mark as PM is he likely to lead his divided party to victory in 2009? He must be praying McDonnell fails to garner the 44 signatures needed to validate his leadership bid; it wouldn't stop the rebellions but it would prevent the dawn of his reign being clouded by a blizzard of media publicity for leftwing ideas.

Comments:
I should think that's the last thing Brown is hoping for. If McDonnell doesn't get enough nominations and the leadership comes down to a coronation, not only will Brown have to contend with rebellions in Parliament, he'll also face a highly disgruntled party in the country and the widespread view that he has no legitmacy as leader or Prime Minister, making it impossible for him to face those rebellions down. If McDonnell gets the nominations and then loses the election, as he suely will, then he's a failed leadership candidate. All that being said, there's no reason that, for Brown to make his mark, he needs to pursue legislation that the rebels cannot support. And if he wants to win the next election it would be better for him not to. Labour can no longer afford to lose votes on the left. If Brown pursues a Blairite agenda it will and his time as Prime Minister will be short-lived and pointless. If Brown fulfills the promise many expect of him to return the party to its more traditional policies, he will quickly outshine Blair and become a more significant Prime Minister and may enjoy a longer period in office.
 
Fair point Anon. I agree Brown will have to establish himself as very different from Blair to stand a chance of winning in 2009 - but I wonder if he has enough of the kind of agile political 'magic' Blair (still) has to land those 'clunking heavyweight' punches on Cameron and prevent him establishing an unassailable lead in the polls.
 
An appealing scenario is for McDonnell to stand and be defeated. Then Gordon Brown can be magnanimous in victory and at least appear to take on board some of John's proposals (most of which are vague enough to be open to a pretty wide interpretation).

Our new PM could then be presented both as having seen off the loonie left but also as lefter than his predecessor. If I were a betting type my money would be on him to win in 2009 with a larger-than-Wilson-ever-got sized majority...
 
I agree with you a lot here- I think there is a lot of truth to say that Brown will be inheriting a poisoned chalice from Blair. The fascinating thing is that this has actually been one of the most rebelled against governments in history- its just been concealed by the majority. The other thing which you haven't described is the fact that there are a number of people on the backbenches who now can see no future for themselves having been discarded by Blair and consequently have no incentive to be loyal- I'm thinking say Frank Dobson or Chris Smith- they will still be a problem for Brown and could be joined by others like Byers, Milburne and Reid who have no future under Gordon from the other side.
 
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