Monday, June 02, 2008

The Monday morning blog: stuck in the Brown stuff

There has been considerable speculation about whether or not Borwn will be dumped as Leader and therefore Prime Minister by Labour over the past couple of weeks. Now that I have stated the bleedin' obvious, it is time to explore this further.

I have up til now taken the view that Brown will not be forced out. Removing a party leader in opposition is one thing, removing a party leader whilst in government is something completely different. However, given the meltdown in Labour's support under Brown's leadership, my view is beginning to change. My view that Brown will be forced out has switched from never to highly unlikely. The reasons for this change in outlook is simply because the dire nature of Labour's predicament puts them in the region where they may think there is nothing to lose by risking the blood letting that will come as a result of a palace coup, whether successful or not.

It could be that over half Labour's parliamentary party is staring defeat in the face. With such a large group of people threatened with picking up their P45s, who knows what desperate act Labour MPs will turn to? Perhaps they will run the risk of a backlash from the public who would have had no say in the appointment of two prime ministers in a row. Perhaps they will think that as things are so dire, carrying out a revolution could not lead to things getting worse (they may think things couldn't get worse anyway) and getting rid of Brown, who they see as they huge obstacle to recovery, could lead to some kind of recovery, even if that recovery is one that avoids total meltdown but otherwise accepts defeat at the general election.

Personally, I think they will be living in cloud cuckoo land if they think dumping Brown will lead to improvements. The problem for Labour is much much bigger than simply who is leading them. The issue is, what does Labour stand for? Why do they exist? What is their purpose? This was never sorted once Blair left. By appointing Brown uncontested to the leadership, they failed to have the debate they needed. The deputy leadership contest was not a real substitute, especially with joke candidates like Hazel Blears taking part. Ironically therefore, Labour would have been much stronger now had Brown been opposed last year. Labour MPs can hardly complain about the state of their party therefore. They sucked up to Brown. They nominated him in unprecedented numbers. They failed to nominate anyone else. Labour MPs must therefore carry the can for the mess they are in.

The danger Labour now faces is that anarky will prevail within Labour as discipline falls apart. With Labour MPs writing off the general election, they will be looking to save their own skins. Whilst there will still be the tendency for MPs to vote the way the whips tell them, their public pronouncements will be increasingly hostile about the government. And whilst ministers will get most of their measures through, a large number of bills and votes will see Labour arguments and rows. Watch out for lots of critical early day motions (and watch out for lots of Labour MPs signing them make a big noise about opposing the government before trooping through the government lobbies.) All this will simply leave the people with the view that, like the Tories in the 90s, here is a party that is falling apart, lost its way, is disunited and at war with itself.

I was very surprised last year when Brown let the speculation about a general election run riot. I was convinced there would be an election because I did not believe any PM could be stupid enough to let that sort of speculation rip without being ready to follow it up with an announcement that they were going to do what the speculation said they would do. But it turns out I had vastly overrated Brown. Instead, he wanted to be the guy who would dish the Tories. That was the thinking behind the 10p tax change when it was announced a year before it was due to come in. That was the thinking behind allowing speculation about an election. The outcome has been the opposite of what Brown set out to achieve. Far from destabalising the Tories, he has single handedly saved Cameron from the beating he was getting on the ropes, and changed him into a potential Prime Minister. And the party that has been destabalised is Labour.

Surely there must be a prize for incompetence of this order?

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