« Home | More insult to injury. » | He's no neo-conservative! » | Remembering 9/11. » | "Psychological issues." » | A Brownian movement. » | Black holes and revelations. » | Elsewhere... » | Coup? What coup? » | Mirror, Mirror on the memo. » | Scum-watch: Contempt for contempt. » 

Thursday, September 14, 2006 

Clare Short: better late than never.

Clare Short, long one of the few sane voices that remained in the New Labour cabinet (along with Peter Hain, Robin Cook and Michael Meacher, to name but three) has announced that she intends to step down as an MP at the next election. More than that, she's publicly stated that she feels the only way that Labour will truly be renewed will be through not winning the next election. Rather than calling for defeat, she's recognised that the possibility of a hung parliament is the only way for proportional representation to be brought in.

Many, as other blogs and commentators have already noted, regard Clare Short as a busted flush. Her public statement that she would resign if a second UN resolution authorising war on Iraq was not forthcoming was by far the biggest mistake of her political career. Her failure to resign alongside Robin Cook before the vote in parliament, something which could have led to Blair losing the motion, meant that she has been sneered at ever since by both pro and anti-war factions.

This has been unfair in most cases. Whether she deserves to be called naive for believing that Blair was genuine in his pleas, promising that she'd have a major role in Iraqi reconstruction or not is also neither here or there. For a Labour MP, her record since resigning has been exemplary, voting the right way on almost all the major contentious issues. During her time in cabinet, despite often being referred to as "Bomber Short" for her belief that the NATO air-strikes on Kosovo were justified, it was obvious that she was one of the few who dared to raise objections to Blair's autocratic style of leadership.

Her article in the Independent similarly presses all the right buttons, and pretty much nails exactly what has gone wrong with New Labour:

Blair's craven support for the extremism of US neoconservative foreign policy has exacerbated the danger of terrorism and the instability and suffering of the Middle East. He has dishonoured the UK, undermined the UN and international law and helped to make the world a more dangerous place. The erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties has weakened our democracy and increased Muslim alienation.

Gordon Brown's commitment to a replacement of Trident, in one throwaway sentence, is an insult to democracy. The approach of New Labour to public sector reform has demeaned the precious value of public services. And in addition to the arrogance and lack of principle of New Labour, there is an incredible incompetence. Policy is announced from Number 10 to grab media attention and nothing is properly thought through.

On the contrary, Clare's last point is probably wrong. The policy of grabbing media attention has certainly been thought through, and especially with the appointment of John Reid as Home Secretary, nearly the entirity of the agenda on law and order has been passed to the Murdoch papers. They in effect have a veto on anything that the government comes up with (remember the referendum of the European constitution?), so obsessed is Downing Street with not displeasing either Murdoch himself or Wade's Sun. Murdoch and Wade reward this sycophancy and indefensible passing of power from government to media tycoons with their own arse-licking of Blair, which Bloggerheads has covered
over the last few days. When Blair eventually steps down, it's hard to imagine Brown changing anything. Indeed, while he is not as close to Wade as Cherie and Tony are, they have in the past shared dinner on a number of occasions.

Clare goes on:
Stay and fight, some argue. But there is no discussion of policy any more. The challenge to Blair and discussions of a new leadership are confined to personalities and all commit to continue the Blair errors.

Short is exaggerating slightly here, as the Labour backbenchers continue to be some of the most rebellious to ever of sat in the chamber, even if the government has only lost votes a couple of times. She is right though that there is next to no discussion at higher levels of the party. The Blairites and Brownites, for all their in-fighting, stand for almost exactly the same things. That Hazel Blears is now calling for "community hustings" is hilarious; she has been responsible as one of the most craven Blair hangers-on for the crackdown on dissent and reliance on spin that has plagued New Labour since it entered office.

My conclusion is that the key to the change we need is a hung parliament which will bring in electoral reform. Then we would have a second election. Labour - with existing levels of support - would have one-third of the seats in the Commons, the Tories something similar, and we would be likely to see some Greens and others added, creating a plurality of voices and power centres in the Commons. British politics would then change profoundly. Parliament, and in turn the people, would have to be listened to, Cabinet government would return, the error-prone arrogance of Number 10 would end, and we would have a chance of creating a new politics, a more civilised country and a more honourable role in the world.

Again, Short is probably way too optimistic here. The best option would be for Labour to have to rely on the Liberal Democrats in order to form a coalition, so that PR can be brought in. The Tory grassroots are diametrically opposed to PR, so it seems unlikely that the Conservatives would agree to any such alliance, probably because they realise that PR would almost certainly destroy the Tory party. No longer would those in constituencies where it's a straight fight between Labour or the Tories be forced to vote for what they feel are the lesser of two evils. Whether a second election would be forthcoming immediately after PR is brought in seems doubtful, as parties would be determined to cling to power before the "big bang" takes place. The tabloid press would still have their poisonous effect on politicians of all colours, PR or not. Short is right though that it would be the best opportunity for "creating a new politics".

The Chief Whip has warned me that I cannot recommend a hung parliament because it would mean Labour MPs losing their seats. I am standing down so that I can speak my truth and support the changes that are needed. Sad to say, it is now almost impossible to do this as a Labour MP.

As if to prove Short's accusations of complete control freakery, it already looks as if she's to be expelled from the party for her effrontery.

While many of us who have sympathy with the Labour party continue to believe that at the moment it represents the least worst option under the current electoral system, Short's comments about fighting to reform the party should be seen as the final nail in the coffin to those who are trying to do so from within. Whether this means a new left wing party needs to be formed, or that an existing organisation such as the Greens or Respect should be built on is something that needs to be urgently looked into. For the moment, a vote for the Liberal Democrats, at least in the places where they have a chance of winning, should be seen as the tactical way to try to bring in PR. Clare Short might have been late, but she still deserves support for her stand.

Share |

Links to this post

Create a Link