Friday, September 26, 2008

Brown will be there til the election

I am on the train heading home, having just left Kings Cross. No quibbles tonight about National Express!

Anyway, back to the Labour conference and The Rebellion That Never Hapened. It is unwise in politics to expect an opponent to self destruct and disappear. Generally, in politics, opponents do not do your work for you though there are some interesting exceptions to that rule, one of whom I could mention but won't to spare his blushes (after all he is a reader of this blog!) Had the internal rebels expected Brown to fall apart, then they have gravely misjudged the situation. The gloss has been knocked off his speech by Kelly's resignation but expectations of her going have been around for months. And frankly the whole episode was just a shambles rather than a couordinated attempt to pull the rug out from under Brown's feet.

For Brown it was a good week in that he was able to quash talk of any immediate challenge to his leadership (there was no actual rebellion to quash, just talk by a disorganised rabble). And whilst his speech did little to reach out to the people of Britain, it did please the majority of Labour members. They were, after all, the ones he needed to pull back onto his side before he can even think of appealing to the country. As I have often argued, even if there was an open challenge, he would survive it. Removing sitting Prime Ministers is difficult. To stand any chance at all, an alternative leader is needed who can command sufficient support across the party. No such person exists.

For that state of affairs, the Blair-Brown duopoly can be thanked. Over the past decade Labour was barely big enough for both of them. No one else had the chance to grow as an alternative. Miliband may be talked of as a future Labour leader but he is too closely associated with the Blairite rump to stand a realistic chance of succeeding in the near future.

Indeed, Miliband arguably had a poor week. His speech was an attempt to be prime miinisterial but the response seems to show he is not taken seriously. And how many people remember the speech for the press photos with Brown at the end? The Mr Bean expression and posture may be difficult to live down in the future. Ironic given the classic description applied by Vince Cable to Brown himself.

So Brown has seen off a rebellion that was never really going to happen anyway. And whilst his stock may have risen within Labour ranks, the conference bounce is unlikely to last. The speech changed none of the conditions that are affecting the state of politics. People will continue to lose jobs, prices continue to climb, jobs continue to be lost. Brown has not slain any of the beasts that are rampaging over the political or economic landscape.

There will be a lull in the internal squabbling in Labour's ranks for a few weeks. If Labour loses the Glenrothes byelection, there will be some short term panic in Labour but Brown will ride it out. The next big test we know about after that is polling day in June. There may be other economic and political crises in the meantime but June is already in our diaries. Were Labour to do badly, there will be again the calls for him to go by his internal malcontents. But by then, Labour won't dare to attempt regicide with only a year to go before the election. So, Brown will be there until the general election is fought. His internal critics may have to get used to that.

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