Sunday, September 07, 2008
Labour in Limbo Over Worst Crisis Since 'Winter of Discontent'
Returning from holiday seems like plunging into a country ravaged by civil war, so desperate and despairing does Labour's plight appear. In fact, I cannot think of a time when the party has been in so dire a situation since the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent. Gordon's 'relaunch', depending on energy companies playing ball with a governbment-led free handout idea, seems to have petered out into a suggestion that we insulate our lofts more effectively. Even during the week of the relaunch, that old warhorse Charles Clarke, upstaged Gordon's speech on the economy by delivering a broadside against him,foreseeing 'disaster' if Brown is left to steward what is left of Labour's time until the next election. His suggestion? Gordon should honourably stand down. As if...
Alistair Darling, too threw in his own unhelpful observation-directly at odds with his boss's more bullish view- that the country faced 'arguably the worst' economic downturn in 60 years(another seventies comparison). Next came the trade unionists, apparently determined to make things even worse with a ferocious attack on David Miliband as a proto Cameron. It just gets worse.
It seems pathetic for a great party like Labour, faced with the humiliating prospect of certain defeat, to be so bereft of answers from within. Even Clarke scuttles away from the suggestion that he might step up to the plate to challenge Brown. The result seems to be a helpless, impotent stasis. As so often on the Labour Party, Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer gets it about right. His analysis is that, while there is much talk of removing Brown, there is 'no orchestration. There are many potential plotters, but there is no plot'. It seems that during my second half of August holiday, David Miliband's challenge has faded, with few coming forward to pick up the standard of revolt against the failed PM. Which makes David Simpson's scabrous atatck on him seem a little strange.
While it remains the case that a concerted approach of Straw, Hoon, Darling, Smith and Johnson would see him off, there is no collective will to take such a gamble for fear of the possible blood-letting. As Rawnsley notes:
Paralysed between fear of the consequences of moving against him and despair about carrying on with him, the Labour party is imprisoned in the worst of all worlds. It is clear that it ought to make a collective decision either to back its leader or to sack him. It is also clear that it is currently incapable of doing either.