Sunday 3 May 2009

After The Worst Week Ever

Am I the only one tired of the 'Brown is finished' meme dominating the headlines and the blogs this weekend? Ever since Brown famously bottled an autumn general election 18 months ago, the sound of knives sharpening has greeted every downturn in the government's fortunes. And especially so now - this last week is being hyped as THE WORST WEEK EVER. The defeat of the government over the gurkhas, the climb down over MPs expenses, the widely panned YouTube appearance, Charles Clarke declaring he's ashamed to be a Labour MP and now Hazel Blears has put the boot in, in an article ostensibly lamenting Labour's failure to communicate "the positives" to the public. So definitely the worst week since ... the government's last worst week.

But all the talk about a challenge to Brown's leadership is just that, talk. Wretched and despised the head of New Labour maybe, no one is prepared to do a Brutus and plunge the knife in. And why should they? The political careers of Geoffrey Howe, Michael Heseltine and John Redwood didn't exactly flourish after their turns in the role. Nor would a parliamentary coup necessarily go down well with the public. For example, insiders have briefed the media to suggest Brown's replacement by Alan Johnson might save Labour up to 100 seats at the next general election. But there is no suggestion of politics or political difference: it is always framed in terms of cynical self-interest. A successful challenge, which if it comes is most likely to assume this apolitical character, isn't the smartest way of "reconnecting" Labour to its support.

On Andrew Marr
this morning, Ken Livingstone accurately diagnosed the political roots of the government's problems. New Labour remains terrified of the party's social democratic shadow but this is its only route to salvation. Labourism renewed might not be my cup of tea, but that would be many times better than New Labour's grey hodgepodge of neoliberalism, Keynes-lite and managerialism. If there is hope for the government, it won't lie in the polls until the values of the past are embraced and built upon. But alas, this is all academic. Brown will not be removed. And in a party that has choked off members' influence by closing down democratic decision making, a revival of social democracy this side of an election is about as likely as my becoming a UKIP MEP.

But there is something socialists in and out of the Labour party can be cheerful about, and that's the state of the
Tories. They feel pretty good about themselves. They ride high in the polls. The MPs expenses row barely touched them. They are enjoying fairly favourable media coverage. But very deep divisions lurk beneath the surface. Cameron and Osborne will almost certainly pursue a Thatcherite course if they win the next general election, but when it comes to values they are keen to position themselves within the cultural lifestylist consensus embraced by New Labour. The same cannot be said for other members of the parliamentary Conservative party, nor the Tory grass roots. And then there is Europe. Since Howard took over from the farcical Ian Duncan Smith he and Cameron have successfully placed a sticking plaster over the seeping wound. Opposition has certainly helped maintain discipline, but euro-scepticism is a position no Tory leader has managed to hold onto while in power. Cameron will prove no different, and neither will the Tory grassroots. The popularity of the odious Daniel Hannan (who, incidentally, views the NHS as a "socialist mistake") among them shows this particular fissure yawns deeply as it ever did. Lastly, a Cameron government are likely to take the axe to the "defence" budget, which will anger the Colonel Blimps and armchair imperialists in the local associations.

How long it will take these contradictions to surface is hard to say, but they certainly won't before the next election. But there's no harm in the hard left and the mainstream parties pursuing tactics aimed at bringing these out into the open.


Charlie Marks said...

The Tories are going to have big problems with the shadow cabinet's outside earnings - the case could easily be made that the tories have no idea what life is like for the man on the street. With anti-capitalist sentiment at an all time high, this could be the only thing that rescues the Labour Party in terms of opinion polls.

In electoral terms, Labour's activists will have to build alliances with the scottish/welsh nationalists and the greens. The tories are weak in both scotland and wales - it's not hard to imagine moves towards independence increasing under a new tory govt, something labour could use to its advantage.

As for the Liberals - how likely are they to back Cameron? Their MPs are ardent Euro-federalists who will worry Cameron will be forced into a Eurosceptic position; their voters in many areas would otherwise vote Labour but vote Liberal to keep out the Tories.

But if Blears' supposed unawareness of how her article would be seen as an attack on her boss - there's little hope for Labour preventing the Tories conquering England...

Phil said...

Another story that emerged this weekend are the talks Nick Clegg's crew have allegedly been having with disgruntled Blairites. This shows up the lack of political principles of either side. True, the LibDems and the Blairites have a lot of common ground on matters of economic policy and lifestylism, but generally speaking on governance and the state the LibDems are, funnily enough, liberal. The Blairites on the other hand are authoritarian and don't give a rat's ass about civil liberties and surveillance. At best a LibDem-Blairite link up would be a marriage of convenience - I can't imagine LibDem activists enthusiastically hitting the trail for them.

Re: Scotland I'm sure Cameron will treat the national question with kid gloves and be careful not to unduly promote Scottish independence - though of course the little Englander wing of the Tories who've been blathering about the 'Scottish cabal' and have opportunistically raised the idea of an English parliament will have to be placated.