Tuesday, June 16, 2009
How Gordon has Been Weakened and Mandy Enthroned
Time perhaps to reflect a little on the hectic political events of the last week or so. Where has it left us, and more especially Gordon Brown? He is still there, the apparent essence of his strategy, but clearly much weakened politically.
1. Darling: His pre-reshuffled Cabinet was clearly not reliable. Darling had offered resistance to the Supreme Leader, as the Eye satirically dubs him, so he was marked down for the chop. Purnell's brave sacrifice however(who knows, it might serve him in good stead later?) prevented Brown from applying the final thrust. Darling remains and, I'd guess with enhanced power over his PM.
2. Miliband: We understand Miliband was seriously considering whether to join Purnell, but then pulled back. Not much of a vote of confidence in the boss was it? Brown has to realise his Foreign Secretary will not now be dependable and firm ally. But he did agree to have his loyalty 'bought' by staying on in the office he enjoys.
3. Alan Johnson: For those of us who admire thee former postman his performance has been a little mystifying. It seems like he has opted to accept promotion in exchange for ostensible loyalty. Maybe he is playing a longer game, but even now he carries a veto over his boss should he wish to use it.
4. Labour Party: Having to face a virtual 'trial' by PLP last Monday evening must have been humiliating to a proud man. Never mind that his shadowy myrmidons had worked the crowd beforehand and that whips were recording the names of those who spoke against him, he must have hated having to appear so vulnerable in front of a group he had so easily dominated hitherto. And have to promise so vehemently to improve his performance must have stuck in his throat as well. He must know he is only there on sufferance and because there is nobody with the bottle to stand against him. He will have to offer concessions to bolster his support. I reckon ID cards might still be one such a sop, just as the inquiry into the Iraq war has.
5.Mandelson: This is the politician who has emerged with the most enhanced power and prestige from the crisis. And his performance deserves it. He it has been who has stitched up support and facilitated the re-eshuffle when it was going pearshaped. He it was who remained ice cool when everyone else was panicking. He has won, through his feats, a super department and a bigger ofice even than Heseltine's when he was deputy to Major. He is so strong that he can rewrite Brownite policy at will, stating confidently that we were 'obviously' heading for entry into the single currency.
The irony of the ultimate Blairite propping up his bitterest enemy is just too delicious. He could have despatched him, one supposes but chose to allow him to live. I tend to agree with The Economist when it suggests the Hannibal Lector of our politics must derive pleasure from keeping on his former mortal foe at his pleasure:
Lord Mandelson could easily have destroyed his erstwhile foe. Yet to a refined palate, the one-off rush of bringing down an old adversary might seem a crass and unsatisfying triumph. How much more gratifying to hold his fate in your hands every day—and he knowing you own it? It is a turn of events that, before he became prime minister, Mr Brown cannot have anticipated in his worst, wildest dreams.
On this occasion, I disagree with a couple of your points. Firstly, I think you fail to give Brown credit for what he has achieved. Did you read Paul Krugman's interview in The Observer ?
“If the government can hold off having an election until next year, Labour might well be able to run as "we're the people who brought Britain out of the slump".
... I would guess that the option value is quite high that the economy might actually have turned a corner. That's unique. That's a uniquely British thing. None of the other G7 countries has anything like that. ... I think the UK economy looks the best in Europe at the moment. “
Those in the cabinet who didn't believe Brown could deliver are being proved wrong – and the more the economy improves, the less credible any of his challengers looks. Who else could have done it?
Secondly I think you underestimate Mandelson. As I read him a) he is 100% political and b) he hates the Tories. Do you really see his comment about the Euro as a mistake? a slip of the tongue? bravado? Why has no-one on the Tory front bench gone for him do you think? Because the Tories are split top-to-bottom on Europe. They know it and Mandelson knows it. Cameron's been forced to bring Clarke in to give them some weight and he's more pro-Euro than Brown by a country mile. This is Mandelson a) dragging his coat in front of Cameron and daring him to step on it and b) a ranging shot for an artillery battle in the GE campaign.
Thanks for the well considered comments. I would love to think Krugman is right about the economy and that Brown is able to offer such a narrative. Rawnsley discussed it a bit did he not?
Also agree Mandy hates the Tories- though would rather like to live like one of the rich ones. He is a wonderful, exotic figure for our often rather boring politics don't you think?
Agree with the point about Mandelson and the Tories - I wonder what line he'll peddle if and when Blair is European President? Having said that, not sure that Europe still has the potential to split the Tories as dramatically as it has done in the past.
There's several reasons for this: the age profile of the party has changed considerably since the early 90s for one. The generation that egged on the likes of Cash et al are not the power/influence in the party they once were and whatever residue continues to survive on the backbenches will look very differently on creating a split prior to an election they could possibly win. Secondly, Cameron knows that a seat at the top table with Obama is very much dependent on a future Conservative government showing itself to be 'sound' on the EU. Cameron was apparently very wounded in the wake of his meeting with Obama last year when the then Presidential candidate allegedly thought the Tory leader 'an idiot' after hearing him pledge his devotion to the USA and not the EU. Cameron is not the kind of politician to waste that kind of political education and you can be sure that any hint of being 'off message' on the EU will bring down a whole world of misery on those who wish to follow this particular argument. Finally, Mandelson is as much a hate figure on the Tory backbenches as he is on the Labour NEC - I'm not convinced the Tories will be so gullible as to bite on this one, not even the europhobe buffons in the shires.
All of which leaves Mandelson in a strange position: king maker for a 'new' new Labour project, perhaps? There's surely no route back to the Commons for him and even in his most fanciful imaginings he must surely find it difficult to see anything better than a hung parliament, and THAT, I think, is where we'll see the master political strategist of his generation at his utmost best.
Thanks for interesting comments.
Wasn't being patronising to Johnson; more of a literary device, employing another way of referring to him.
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