Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Browned Off

Labour's in a bit of a pickle isn't it? Languishing behind the Tories in the polls, there was an extra kick in the latest from Ipsos Mori which put the LibDems a single point ahead. Chances are this is a rogue but it underlines the problems the party is in. It's not for nothing why Alan Johnson this morning said Brown had to give the speech of his life at conference today. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has had on the polls.

Of course the speech was nothing of the sort (full text and BBC analysis here) and you could have almost written it in advance. Mix in some welcome but soft social-democratic measures (ten hours of free child care/week, increases for the minimum wage, child benefit and child tax credits); some weak Keynesianism (£1bn fund for innovation in industry), pledges on very limited political reforms (some elements of recall, elected Lords, goodbye to first-pass-the-post), a partial (and already announced) climb down on ID cards, a raft of draconian measures to crack down on feral families and of course state "supervision" of 16-17 year old single mums (dubbed "gulags for slags" by one right wing wag (an alternative take here)). This should play well in the gutter press, the voter reform on liberal-leaning floating voters and the economic measures should firm up the neglected base. Or at least they might if it was anyone but Brown pledging them.

When the remaining Blairite ministers were spitting out their dummies in the run up to the European elections, it was plain they believed there was nothing wrong with the government's overall direction. Rather than squarely confront the political causes of their haemorrhaging support they sought comfort in the belief a new face at the helm would provide a quick fix. For them New Labour was fundamentally sound. It was Gordon who was at fault.

Quite rightly Purnell, Blears and the rest of that odious mob were eviscerated for their treachery. With any luck it will be some time before they return to the front rank of British politics. But they did have a point. Had Brown announced manna was to begin falling from Heaven because of a deal he'd negotiated with the almighty Labour would still face defeat at the next election. Because in politics, as much as we might want to focus on programmes, policies and issues, personalities *do* matter. But not in the way our erstwhile ministers thought.

Brown isn't popular because he's dour, miserable and doesn't play the media game. If this was the case there wouldn't have been the big poll bounce over his handling of the economic crisis last year. No, Brown isn't popular because he's accumulated about his person the lies, the cronyism and cretinism, the venality, and the petty authoritarianism associated with the New Labour project in the popular imagination. His moves last October may have given us a recession rather than a depression, but the electorate knows he let finance run wild with precious few checks right up to the moment the global casino seized up. He might promise a better minimum wage now, but that will do little to erase the memory of the man who clawed back the 10p tax band. You see, when you've been rolling in the shit of establishment politics for as long as Brown has it can never be washed off.

Unfortunately for the Labour party they're lumbered. For all the plots and rumours of plots it will be Brown leading Labour into the next election. The manifesto will be an uninspiring and unpalatable mix of social democracy lite, civil illiberalism and neoliberal cuts. The only thing going for them is at least they're not the Tories, which is only meaningful because Cameron's programme is much, much worse. But it means for socialists we're lumbered too, despite glimmers of hope at the margins of the Labour party and outside it that deserve and will receive left support. But in most of the country the election is between Labour and Tory, Brown vs Cameron. And as much as we don't like it, we cannot afford to ignore it.


Arthur Bough said...


Phil what is odd is that this Party has already undertaken even under Blair many policies that the Left were crying out for during the 1970's and 80's. The Militant used to have as part of its mantra of demands - The Minimum Wage and Nationalisation of the Banks and Finance Houses. Duirng all those previous Labour adminsitrations that the Militant was prepared to live with along with the rest of us in entrist organisations there was not trhe slightest chance of Wilson, Foot, or Callaghan doing any of those things.

Blair did the first, and Brown has done the second. During the 1970's labour Governments ravaged Public Spending and imposed Pay policies on workers with the active assistance of the TU leaders. Again Blair and Brown have massively increased Public Spending, tripling spending on the NHS. Despite the calls for cuts in the Public sector, employment in the Public Sector has risen by 1 million under Labour.

True, Labour has not scrapped all the anti-union laws. But it was wilson's government that first proposed introducing such laws! True, Labour has cold shouldereed the union leaders, but given the way the beer and sandwiches in the past was used to impose pay controls on workers and so on perhaps that is no bad thing. True, they have rubbed shouldes in Public with the rich, but its naive to believe that Labour in the past did not rub shoulders with the rich in the past in private.

Brue Blair invaded Iraq. But attlee crippled the economy by insisting on a UK nuclear deterrent, and supported the US in invading Korea! It oversaw the slavery of the British Empire, and past Labour leaderships and Governments did even worse.

Anonymous said...

Unless we're lucky enough to be in a constituency with a decent left-of-Labour challenge, then you're right, we're stuck with a choice between the Devil (Labour) and the Beast (Cameron's Conservatives).

Chris said...

I would also point out that many of the demands of the communist manifesto have been met!

Electing a far left political party is one thing, transforming ownership of the means of production quite another.