Monday, 1 June 2009

Labourlost Finally Finds Its Voice

Daniel Finkelstein earlier today noted a startling article on the reborn (and now half decent thanks to Dolly's departure - shame it's too late for them) Labourlist blog. Entitled 'Gutless Brown', it spells out in no uncertain terms precisely where Brown has completely failed and where Cameron has partially succeeded in tackling the expenses scandal. It's a decent analysis not-least because it delivers a reasonably honest appraisal of the state of play (unlike the latest ultra-rogue Comres Indy poll - which stinks, frankly!).

Two things: Labour activists are going to need a hell of a lot more of this kind of clear thinking if they are to have any hope of avoiding a Party-busting total wipeout come the General Election (an election that will, I think, certainly happen this year). They also need to wake-up to the fact that Brown's weaknesses were well-known long ago in Labour Party circles and yet still they thought that foisting this man without a mandate on the British people was acceptable.

As a succession of hideous polls now unequivocally prove, those weaknesses have done what weaknesses always do when they are stress-tested: they become severe liabilities. Brown's is a destructive character. He is antagonistic towards and suspicious of all those around him, save a handful of tainted, equally blinkered acolytes. In his politics, this destructive character expresses itself in a strange mixture of sophistry, browbeating, defensiveness and morose withdrawal. It is hardly suited to public life; that such a personality has been permitted to become Prime Minister of all things provides ample reason for the parlous state of just about every institutional dimension of the UK's existence: the economy, parliament, the Civil Service, Downing Street, the banking system, civic society, the postal service, public service, the NHS, educational standards, family life and so on and so on. All have been catastrophically affected by the influence of one man: J.G. Brown. every turn in recent weeks, and yes, throughout his doddering premiership, Gordon has shown a shocking and at times painful lack of political instinct, which would have allowed a niftier politician (Blair, anyone?) to not only strengthen his own position but also bring about the transformative energy that Brown alluded to in that conference speech.

Time and again, we the rank and file, have had to squirm as the Prime Minister’s political judgement has been exposed as sorely wanting; the election that never was, 10p tax, youtubegate and now his reaction to the expenses scandal.

No one of course suggests that the poisoned system is Gordon’s fault directly (Parliament itself must take the rap for this) but what we can blame our leader for his appallingly lacklustre political response. Just where exactly has he been? As was so often the case in the Blair years when the going got tough, Gordon retreats to his bunker licking his wounds. Surely any party leader with but the merest handful of political nous would have sensed the virtually apoplectic anger of the British people and responded quickly, positioning himself as the man of change he has for so long tried to convince the electorate he is.

Rather, after his rather unfortunate brush with internet video, Mr. Brown returned to the bunker, presumably hoping everything would just be okay. How can he, or those around him at the very least, not have realised that a political vacuum is never left unfilled? That if Brown failed to position himself as that agent of constitutional change then David Cameron certainly would; which is precisely what happened. The good people of Britain could barely turn on their TV screens or radios without seeing or hearing the Tory leader sounding like a veritable expenses Hulk Hogan; I personally lost count of the number of Conservative MPs on which planned to ‘come down on like a tonne of bricks’ by the end of the week.

The point is that Cameron took the decisive action quickly and efficiently, both on offending MPs and coming out with a plan to solve the mess. This is surely why the latest poll in the Times on Saturday reported that whilst a massive 62% of respondents thought the Prime Minister had been personally most damaged by the expenses scandal a mere 5% thought the same true of Cameron (Ed Balls, presumably).

All of this despite the fact it is Conservative MPs with the most egregious claims. Cameron had the political wherewithal to sense the public’s anger, come out fighting and position himself as the change maker, something that Brown just clearly had not the guts to do.
This is all very well, but where is the call for his immediate removal? Where is the honest, clear cry for reform of the Labour party, starting with the rotten leadership and half the PLP? Where is the appeal in this article that the final connection be made by Labour activists everywhere between the state Britain is in - or merely the state Labour is in within Britain if they can't bear that much honesty - and the man they allowed to play with it for so long, first as Chancellor then as PM? I'll tell you where: nowhere. This is the angry Labour blogger's conclusion:
His only chance now is to go all for it, lay out a clear comprehensive stall for wholesale constitutional reform, expose the Tories’ ‘ifs and buts’ and come out with concrete proposals for a transformed political system. He really has little to lose now. You never know, he might actually form a legacy. Alas, I fear the bunker mentality will prevail once more, but we can at least hope. All of this is but the latest example of Brown’s tactical ineptitude. It will surely cost him, as well as us, dearly.
There's some fight in that - but it's aimed completely at the wrong target once again (the 'evil Tories' and 'the system'). What there is far more of is something that is becoming more and more familiar as the Brown disaster continues to unfold: a shrug of the shoulders and more supine drifting from a 'movement' that has lost its way so completely that it no longer seems even to care.

Brown's "tactical ineptitude" is certainly a problem for them, but it's now the least of their worries. If, for example, he is caught in a lie after his denials in this interview about the changes to the expenses rules in 2004 which directly benefited ministers, the remainder of his career could span a matter of days. What is far worse, however, is the almost bovine inability of Labour to grasp once and for all that without him, they stand a chance of limiting the damage to a term or two out of office whereas with him, they might as well tear up their membership cards and call it a day because Labour will be finished for generations.

Alas, I fear the bovine mentality will prevail and Labour will crash into a decline exactly like their Liberal predecessors in the early C20th - and as near-terminal. It will have taken the Liberals a century to recover by the time they beat Brown-led Labour into third place. How long, I wonder, will recovery take for them?

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