Sunday, September 14, 2008

 

Rebels Only a Ripple, Not Yet a Wave

It would have been so much easier for Gordon Brown, had he allowed himself to be opposed in a contest last summer when Tony Blair finally stood down. Then he could have claimed his mettle had been formally tested, his views and vision explained and any challengers bested, as they most assuredly would have been at that time. Instead, arrogance and insecurity in equal measure led him to avoid any such test. Now he faces as growing groundswell of calls for a leadership election which are likely to become louder as the conference approaches up here in Manchester in a wek's time.

The ST leader today openly calls for a leadership contest, citing the 1989 Anthony Meyer candidature which declared open season on Thatcher until Geoffrey Howe wielded the dagger in November of the following year. It also cites Major's 'put up or shut up' contest in 1995 which saw him re-elected, though with diminished authority. But the stakes now could not be higher:

For Labour MPs and cabinet ministers, the question this weekend is whether they are prepared to let things drift to an almost certain heavy defeat in 2010.

Brown's second attempt to relaunch has failed. The poll in the ST today puts Labour on 27%, the Lib Dems on 16 and Cameron's party on 46%; 73% think Brown is doing badly as PM. So far a slew of ex ministers have called for Brown to go, including government whip(promptly sacked) Siobhain McDonagh(pictured), Joan Ryan, vice chair of the party, Fiona McTaggart, a former Home office minister and Barry Gardiner, another former junior minister. The latter also writes a piece in the ST today, which says:

The public has stopped listening to Gordon Brown. He is not a popular prime minister, but he would continue to have my support if he showed sound judgment, international leadership and political vision. Instead we have vacillation, loss of international credibility and timorous political manoeuvres that the public cannot understand.

He points out that according to Part B clause 4 of the Labour Party Rulebook 2008:

“Where there is no vacancy, nominations shall be sought each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20% of the Commons members of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.”

However, when he requested the party's general secretary, Ray Collins, to fulfill this requirement, he was not graced with a reply. Lord (Charlie) Falconer is said to be investigating the legality of this and thus earns membership of the ST's list of rebels.

So where is it all heading? So far the rebels are small fry, serving or former junior ministers, disaffected backbenchers like Graham Stringer and former Blairite ministers like Charles Clarke. Until now, the availability of Miliband and the magazine article by Clarke have caused ripples but not created any real waves. The article by Patricia Hewitt in Progress magazine, signed by six former ministers, calling for Brown to step aside, suggests the unease is widespread in the party. To precipitate a contest, 20% of Labour MPs(71) have to support an alternative candidate which is a tall order when no obvious candidate is discernible.

What the rebels would dearly love is for a clutch of half a dozen senior ministers of the stature of Jack Straw, to tell Gordon, on behalf of the party, to go quietly. As with Thatcher, this might do the trick, but Gordon might tell them to go stuff themselves and gamble those 71 MPs would not step up to the plate. The next week should reveal the true temper of the party and its degree of courage.

Comments:
Bill, I'm not quite clear what you mean by "had he allowed himself to be opposed in a contest last summer when Tony Blair finally stood down."

Brown did allow himself to be opposed. In fact, the Party rules make it quite clear that if 70 Labour MPs sign a nomination form, there must be an election - not just then, but now too I understand.

The fact that only one person put themselves forward, and he couldn't muster anything like the 70 required, doesn't mean anyone was 'not allowed' to stand.

I'm sure you will say people were privately discouraged, but frankly, if that is all the spine those thinking of standing or supporting another candidate have got, perhaps we should be grateful they didn't stand because they certainly wouldn't have the courage to lead the country in difficult economic circumstances.
 
Bob
Very fair point. My memory of the May-June period 2007 was that Brown's supporters, a reasonably well organised band of brothers, let it be known their leader would not be best pleased if any Labour MP lent his name in support of the leftwing candidate who was prepared to stand. So it wasn't so much the candidate as the MPs who were needed to endorse such a person who were discouraged by the 'great clunking fist' as he was then perceived as being. I might be wrong but he did quite a bit himself to scare off the contesrt which would have given him some additional legitimacy.
 
I agree with Bob Piper here. I don't think you can blame Gordon Brown for fighting hard to gain the position he so desperately wanted. If, as Bob says, the calibre and courage of his opponents was so lacking, then the Labour Party had a narrow escape. Now, although Brown's public image has undergone a quantum shift, the courage of at least his major-league rivals hasn't, as witness David Miliband's extraordinary, Portillo-esque manouevrings over the summer. In this context, is it really likely that Jack Straw or anyone else will have the fibre to go and tell GB that he needs to go? After just a year?

The current outbreak seems very much to be, as one commentator has said, a peasants' revolt, and those are thr truly unpredictable ones. Question is, who can the peasants put forward as their Wat Tyler?
 
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