Since the close of the conference season there has been a palpable change in the mood of Labour party activists. Despondency and resignation has been dispelled by a determination to give the Tories a decent fight at the general election, regardless of what the polls say. But the polls have consistently indicated a narrowing of the Conservative lead. The gap is in the 10 per cent range, but when at times the Tories have had 15 point leads you can understand why some believe all is not lost.
Alas that was not the case for Blairite backstabbers Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon. Firmly on the most odious wing of the Labour party, their public call for a secret leadership ballot of MPs reignites an issue most outside the Parliamentary Labour Party felt was done and dusted until at least after the election. Hewitt and Hoon may be despicable, but they're not stupid. Like Hazel Blears' resignation from front line politics, they knew their letter to fellow MPs would strike a blow against Labour's slim chances of re-election. It is a political truism that electorates punish disunity.
Why have Hewitt and Hoon wielded the dagger so publicly? There's an element of sour grapes, certainly. Hoon was humiliated by the press and forced to step down from the government after being exposed as a very enthusiastic home flipper. Hewitt was similarly stung, and will be leaving parliament after the election to spend more time with her consultancies and directorships. There's an element of being in the media spotlight once more before their political careers pass unremarked into the night.
But also, unusually for a Blairite cat fight there might actually be a little bit of politics behind their actions. Though their letter is devoid of overt politics, masking their argument as concerns about divisions in the party over Gordon Brown's leadership, clearly the Blairites have been rattled about the so-called "class war" rhetoric. Their hatred of anything smacking of Labour's social democratic past is very deep-rooted, as is their belief that the overwhelming mass of Britons enthusiastically support privatisation, deregulation and a million and one other neoliberal monstrosities. They are congenitally incapable of linking the modest rise in government support to its equally modest nods in the direction of old Labour. Hewitt, Hoon and their ilk prefer instead to take the rantings of wealthy right-wing columnists and editors as the authentic voice of the marginals. It's a wonder 1997 hasn't been on the phone to ask for its media strategy back.
Beyond torpedoing Labour's chances, it's very difficult to see what Hewitt and Hoon are trying to achieve. Beyond Charles Clarke, whose calls for Brown's resignation are as regular as his not inconsiderable bowel movements, and Frank Field, the government benches' very own in-real-life troll, who in the party is going to back this? Younger Blairites like David Miliband, Caroline Flint and James Purnell have got positioning for future front-line roles in opposition/government to think about. The PLP as a whole appear to be against a ballot. And the trade unions and party membership are pretty pissed off, if this snapshot of "notable" opinion is anything to go by.
It is possible that like the last round of bullying attacks on Brown it could actually benefit our beleaguered prime minister. It's also likely this tantrum will marginalise Blairite influence in the PLP and wider party even more. Even if these positives emerge from the turmoil, Hewitt and Hoon stand proven as reckless, idiotic, selfish, and disloyal.