A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another hara-kiri weekend for Labour

I've spent this weekend feeling a strong sense of deja vu.

My reaction to the calls for a leadership contest from Siobhain McDonagh, Joan Ryan et al is pretty much identical to my reaction to the letter from the 2001 intake of MPs that tried to precipitate a leadership election in September 2006. In both cases I disagreed with the initiative profoundly (I'd be in moral turmoil about trying to oust a leftwing leader like Michael Foot who I disagreed with on everything, let alone someone from my own wing of the Party), but know some of the people involved and respect them and their motives, even whilst disagreeing with them.

I like Siobhain McDonagh, I share almost all her politics, and she cannot be accused of "treachery" because she never supported Brown being PM in the first place. She and her sister, former General Secretary Margaret, are amongst Labour's most formidable grassroots organisers, turning Mitcham & Morden from a Tory seat into a Labour fortress with a 12,500 majority through sheer hard work. They are serious people who will have acted in what the believe to be the best interests of the Party. Their friend and ally Joan Ryan is an equally accomplished campaigner whose holding onto ultra-marginal Enfield North with a swing against her of less than 1% was one of the miracles of the 2005 General Election - and featured some of the most innovative campaign literature I've ever seen.

However, I think their timing is not forgivable in this instance. The PM deserves the chance to turn round the current opinion polling numbers. He has been trying to do that with policy initiatives over the last two weeks and obviously the key moment will be his conference speech. However much people might think there is some unnamed person out there who could do a better job, you don't deliberately destabilise your own party's leader when they are attempting to restore the party's fortunes - particularly when you don't even have a named alternative to support. Everyone in the PLP knew about the timing of the "relaunch" so there is no excuse for torpedoing it. My hunch is that the bulk of the PLP and party members think we owe Gordon the chance to turn things round.

Strategically I also despair at this continued division of the right of the Party. How on earth did we get into this ridiculous situation where people are categorised not by where they sit on an ideological spectrum but by whether they are "Blairites" or "Brownites" - two camps with about as much political - as opposed to personal - difference between them as the Big Enders and Little Enders in Gulliver's Travels (named after their preferred mode of egg eating) yet who behave towards each other like the Montagues and Capulets? I have tried to think of a single policy where Siobhain and Joan would disagree with die-hard Brownites like, for instance Tom Watson and Ian Austin. I can't think of one. Surely people who agree on policy and ideology should be working together to defeat the Tories, the Lib Dems, and in our own party those who want a lurch back to the left, not continuing some blood feud about who said what to whom at Granita in 1994? Or are we destined to see coup after counter coup, revenge political attack after attack, until the current generation of MPs are on their zimmer frames in the Lords (if it still exists)? At some point people who actually agree on everything except personalities have to draw a line and just get on with working together.

I do not see how this spate of resignations can achieve the change of leader the protagonists want. I doubt there are anything like the 70 MPs required to force a vote at Annual Conference. At Annual Conference there is next to no chance of securing a 50% vote to trigger a leadership election - for a start-off, which unions would back it and they have 50% of the vote before the CLP delegates even start voting? If there was a leadership contest and Brown wanted to stand in it, I reckon he would win - we know from the Deputy Leadership contest last year that union members overwhelming follow the advice on who to vote for sent out with the ballot, and I can't imagine National Political Director of Unite Charlie Whelan drafting a recommendation for Derek Simpson to send that didn't back Gordon. Net result: same PM but wounded by a contest, and the Party having wasted a vast amount of money and time on fighting itself not Cameron. If Brown stood down and there was an open contest my money would be on a soft left candidate like Harriet Harman or John Denham coming through on transfers, which surely can't be the outcome Siobhain and Joan want.

It's obviously too late for the people who have already broken cover to retreat from what they are doing, but I hope that other Labour MPs think very carefully before causing further instability in the run up to a conference where unity is vital. We need calls for a leadership contest now like a fish needs a bicycle.


Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Can't we just have a gentle move to the left and take the country with us, rather than a 'lurch'?

10:39 pm, September 14, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

Yes, I don't think there's anyone suggesting we lurch to the left - a series of considered and deliberate strides, perhaps.

10:52 pm, September 14, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Luke - while I would like to see a leadership contest in a kind of mirror image of your Michael Foot point on another thread - I have to say, from a Labour right perspective your point is quite sensible. I've never been able to fathom any political differences between 'Brownites' and 'Blairites'. Certainly none of any significance.

Trouble is, while that makes clamours for a leadership election from the right rather mysterious (other than pure personality politics) it makes such clamours from the broad acres closer to me rather more likely.

Either Brown is something new and distinctive from the Blairite past (and therefore anathema to your less roundhead-minded Labour rightwingers) or he is the logical continuation of Blair, and therefore just as unpalatable to the centre and left. The trouble for Brown is that he's not quite either of those things. He's the political continuation of Blair (therefore he alienates many on the centre and left) but he's stylistically very different, and that seems to alienate many on the right. And of course, a whole generation of Blairites and Brownites were told to hate each other, for some strange reason I could never glean.

Whenever it happens, the next Labour leader must be neither Brownite nor Blairite, then Granita will go back to being a fancy Italian drink.

10:57 pm, September 14, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been intrigues by the fact that it's the women MPs who seem to be leading this. They look ruthless and should not be underestimated. NO ONE should underestimate EITHER of the McDonagh sisters. It's now a matter of "when" not "if" Gordon has to go. I give him till next summer - tops.

11:02 pm, September 14, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

A lot of these MPs were first elected in 1997 or else highly political active between 1992 and 1997 - didn't they learn anything from the way Tory MPs behaved during that time and the damage it did their party?

11:06 pm, September 14, 2008

Blogger Mark Still News said...

This infighting between 2 right wing factions is absolutely pathetic. 17 months to go for the election and the party is in a real mess. The right wing factions don’t care, because once another Tory government is elected they will be offered jobs in the private sector on huge over inflated salaries. Meanwhile the rest of us will have to put up with the Tory crap for another 18 years. Although the Right wing Labour have not been much better than the Tories from 97 to now-It’s a case of Labour give you 1 lot of crap and the Tories give you double crap-so we vote labour as it is less crap than the Tories-But still crap.

11:17 pm, September 14, 2008

Blogger Shamik said...

Sleep-walking to extinction, which is what'll happen if Gordon remains in charge, is the very definition of hara-kiri.

We need to move back to the centre, lest Cameron and Clegg squeeze us out of existence.

Mr Milliband, your country needs you...

11:57 pm, September 14, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think, Luke, that you have correctly noted that this really not as simplistic as some try and make out. There are no clear lines of support or opposition to GB - some on the left like him (Bob Marshall-Andrews, Diane Abbott), some on the right don't, and they are not all necessarily Blair enthusiasts who can't stand Gordon. Fiona Mactaggart doesn't fit into that category at all, for example.

I think that the policy problems of the Government are similar to those of the last few months of the Blair years. However, I also think there are two further problems which fuel the dissatisfaction with GB.

First, he simply doesn't have the presentation skills to make people feel that despite everything, he is in charge and can win again.
Second, there doesn't really appear to be any clear strategy or vision - the overall sense is the government staggering on from one crisis to the next with the odd new policy here and there.

I wish that this were not so. But it is. And I think Brown simply cannot turn it round. There is just too much negativity towards him. John Major is the blueprint.

I would say that a Tory government is pretty much inevitable but that they have few answers and are likely to become equally unpopular very quickly.

12:36 am, September 15, 2008

Blogger ian said...

The only thing pleasing about this is that you cant blame the left for the disunity and ultimately the election defeat.

Luke, if you want the support of the left in the 'coalition' to win the next general election, what meaningful consessions will be given to the left?



7:29 am, September 15, 2008

Blogger John Wiseman said...

dear luke

I agree that changing leader maybe be wrong at present, but we need to change policy, unite's patience is running out


7:49 pm, September 15, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Forget the turmoils in the Labour party please pay more attention to the financial markets. If this turmoil continues you may well see the end of all your pensions and your jobs.

8:59 pm, September 15, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

And the answer to that is another market-orientated go0vernment with a Tory label?

9:47 pm, September 15, 2008

Blogger Mark Still News said...

And the answer to that is another market-orientated go0vernment with a Tory label?

We've already got that under the label NLP?

12:27 am, September 16, 2008

Blogger Mark Still News said...

To John Wiseman

The RMT patience ran out years ago with these Right wing clowns and so will UNITE and many others, which is tragic.

The trouble is alternative labour parties have been created, such as, the Socialist Labour-Socialist Alliance and Respect. How many more left wing parties do we create, before we get it right?

Rich has said the truth of the matter as follows: If this turmoil continues you may well see the end of all your pensions and your jobs.

If that is the case we must abandon the free market altogether and bring in a Socialist economy, as Private and Company Pensions reliant on the stocks investment will be Naff and jobs are just going to cave in. At least in Thatchers time she had North Sea oil to pay for the 6 million unemployed-But what resources do we have to pay for it?

Its time the LP learned lessons from Marx and Lenin and many others-To build an alternative to capitalism?

12:39 am, September 16, 2008

Anonymous Don S said...

Merseymike is correct - Gordon has zero presentation skills and no clear vision for the country. That's not an election winning combination...

12:01 pm, September 16, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

I have long been of the same view as duncan hall:

" I've never been able to fathom any political differences between 'Brownites' and 'Blairites'. Certainly none of any significance.".

Indeed, I can recall on several occasions warning Labour people 'on the left' during Blair's time, that they were working themselves up into a pointless lather of expectation around Brown. If Brown was in any significant way different he would have made some sort of move at the time when the Government utterly debased itself on the second USA-led invasion of Iraq.

I did myself nevertheless shelter some hope for at least some change, but that has not come to pass.

Luke I think it commendable when you assert matters should be about policy and ideology and not superficial things like "I'm a Blairite, well I'm a Brownite"... But we cannot now have it both ways. These two camps between them rendered New Labour what it became: a vacuous and unlearning
movement in which dialogue on any other kind of basis (and certainly not one that asserted a truly left-wing position) became unacceptable and to be wholly vilified.

1:51 pm, September 16, 2008

Blogger Mark Still News said...

Hello Ted

You quoted this below:

Indeed, I can recall on several occasions warning Labour people 'on the left' during Blair's time, that they were working themselves up into a pointless lather of expectation around Brown.

From what I can remember the left were campaigning and supporting John McDonnell against Right wing extremist Brown. I always knew the Brownite's and Blairist's were just Thatcher clones labelled as NLP. I never expected anything decent From Brown.

2:15 pm, September 16, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Mark Still, it might just have been a bit different in Scotland then. But I don't think so going by the UK material I was reading at the time.

There was,in my recollection, a swarthe of Party activists (and dissillusioned non-activists) who believed that McDonnell was electoral suicide, regardless of his other merits. They were articulating much hope in Brown as "maybe not radical-left but definately more left and traditional Labour than Blair".

However, I do recall thta a distinctly Scottish take was also that Brown would be more 'Scottish'. That has turned out to be both untrue and contrary - it was Blair that delivered devolution for Scotland and it has been Brown at his controlling worse that has constrained Scotish Labour since devolution to their great cost - all in pursuit of the fabled 'middle England' vote.

10:30 am, September 17, 2008

Blogger Mark Still News said...

Hello Ted.

The Trade Unions were backing John McDonnell-Except the TNG or maybe Unison at Nat level, but la tocal he had a lot of support. John was turning up to a lot of RMT meetings all over the Nation and at T-C meetings.
Bob Crow certainly did not expect much from Brown-he said what's the point he is from the same mould!!

12:09 pm, September 17, 2008


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