Wednesday, July 30, 2008 

The Miliband tendency.

This was probably one of those days when the great British public, those who aren't sunning themselves or wisely ignoring the news completely, find themselves remarkably disengaged by just how insular and geeky political reporting and machinations are. The government's foreign minister writes an article for an national newspaper. Article is deeply average, but because there's not a lot of news around and because the media are desperately looking for evidence of a plot to unseat the Supreme Leader, article is bigged up until it is most certainly the setting out of a stall for a leadership bid. Pandemonium breaks out on the streets as the country tries to take in the massive implications of this latest development. The law lords ruling on the dropping of the SFO inquiry into the BAE slush fund for comparison, unless I missed it, didn't even make it onto the News at 10 on the BBC.

Admittedly, the said article doesn't so much as mention Gordon Brown, and the press conference this afternoon with Miliband himself fending off question after question about its provenance will have done nothing whatsoever to reassure Brown himself of Miliband's true intentions. Jeremy Corbyn probably accurately summed it up, saying:

"Look at the timing, and look at the article itself. We are right at the start of the holiday season, and it is hardly a deep and thoughtful essay."

To which you can only reply, quite. For if this is Miliband's unofficial start to his own leadership campaign, it's certainly a deeply underwhelming one. There is not that much that is startlingly wrong with it; there just isn't anything that's spectacularly brilliant about it.

In fact, its contents can be summed up thus: we [New Labour] must not assume that we've already lost, even if the polls show that we're going to be annihilated; we must stop boasting about how brilliant we've been, but nonetheless all our wonderful success occurred under our former leader, Mr Blair, who I just happened to advise until I became an MP; even though I've just said that we must stop boasting about how brilliant we are, that Mr Cameron's wrong about us being a broken society because look how crime's dropped and how all these other things for which I haven't provided evidence for have dropped since we entered power; now, that Thatcher, she was pretty good wasn't she, inspired Mr Blair, and both of them were radicals while Mr Cameron is just a lightweight; Cameron, he hasn't got any policies, except for ones fairly similar to our own, and highly reminiscent of how we won in 97, decontaminating his brand whilst being suitably vague; that's enough Tory bashing for the moment, now we have to prepare for the upturn even though the downturn still hasn't hit properly yet; something about the public services; The Tories just don't get it do they?; oh, and finally we won by offering real change, change which our current leader isn't offering, so get ready to vote for me instead!

It's hardly Kennedy, is it? Not sub-par Obama class, even. Miliband does, it must be said, deserve credit for finally saying something against Cameron and their broken society nonsense, but it's nowhere near strong enough, nowhere nearly powerfully argued enough, and without any real background to emphasise the point. He's also right that the Tory belief that everything can be magically solved by either involving the voluntary sector or the private sector is completely unrealistic, but it gets lost in the general weakness of the argument. If this is the best that Labour has to offer, it's hardly going to cause Cameron to lose any sleep.

In any case, Miliband isn't going to win the leadership through fighting the Tories, if that is of course what this is the opening salvo of. He'll do that only through making the case that he can learn the lessons of the Blair and Brown years, the mistakes and the successes, and at the moment he only seems to have taken the positives from the Blair era and the negatives from the Brown era. As undoubtedly a Blairite and not a Brownite, that isn't surprising, but if there is one thing that Labour needs, it's someone who can either unite both wings, or can tell one wing once and for all that they can go and swivel, and if they like being right-wing so much, they can join the Tories and reign in perpetuity if they so wish.

Also more than apparent is that Labour continue to underestimate both Cameron and the Conservative resurgence. As addressed previously, for a while you could call Cameron a shallow salesman without any policies, but it simply isn't accurate any longer and just won't wash. Miliband is wise enough to realise that the attack has to be harder, but he doesn't seem to have recognised yet exactly what the Conservatives are doing, which is bizarre, because it's exactly what Labour was doing in the run-up to 97, when Miliband was none other than Blair's head of policy. Despite my dismissal of it last year, I've been devouring the Alastair Campbell diaries (which sums up just how sad I am, really), and what you can instantly note is that either Coulson or someone in the Tory camp has been taking notes right from it. The difference is that unlike New Labour, the Tories, rather than being positive, as they were with "things can only get better," Britain deserves better and other vacuous soundbites which didn't do down the country but rather the party of government, has decided to be negative but still keep with the same overall message. Britian is broken, things are pretty grim, but the Conservatives, rather than the washed-up and out of ideas Labour party are the only ones that can fix it. The New Labour victory was built, exactly as Cameron is doing now, on "decontaminating the brand", which came through Clause 4 and removing almost anything truly out and out left-wing from the agenda. The Tories are doing the same, but are throwing out the right-wing message now because they're confident enough that they'll win in any case.

There, for all to see, is Labour's biggest failure, and also its betrayal. In being so desperate to win, they abandoned their core and are now reaping what they sowed. The Conservatives, realising what they did wrong, have learned from that mistake. First make yourself electable, but don't become so obsessed in doing so that you forget what you're actually for. Miliband is right in one thing, which is that it is still feasibly possible, if remote, that Labour can win the next election. It'll just take far more courage and real change, not just the phony change so far offered by both himself and Brown, for that to happen.

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Friday, May 18, 2007 

The Labour party is dead. Long live the Labour party.

The people's flag is palest pink
It's not the colour you might think
White collar workers stand and cheer
The Labour government is here
We'll change the country bit by bit
So nobody will notice it
And just to show that we're sincere
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year

The cloth cap and the wollen scarf
Are images outdated
For we're the party's avant garde
And we are educated
So raise the rolled umbrella high
The college scarf, the old school tie
And just to show that we're sincere
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year

The People's Flag is Palest Pink.

John McDonnell's blog advises those who supported him in his bid to at the least stand for the Labour party leadership not to mourn, but instead to organise. If someone was feeling bitter, they might well say that the organising should have been done before the wake became inevitable, but in actuality the election of Gordon Brown unopposed as the next Labour leader, and as a result, the next prime minister, is not his and his supporters fault. This was the final spasm of a party that since the Blairite takeover has been in its death throes. The corpse now lays in state on the government benches, and there's little chance that it will ever be reanimated. The Tory maggots are already drooling at the opportunity to gorge themselves on the flesh of the once great beast, becoming full on the Blairite policies which they will later regurgitate and reheat for the consumption of the public. City academies never looked so appealing.

How on earth did it come to this? We all knew that John McDonnell could not possibly win the Labour leadership, and indeed, that if he did that it would likely mean the defeat of Labour at the next election. This was never about John actually leading the party. The whole point of his candidature, at least as it should have been, was to emphasise the deep discontent over the Blairite (and Brownite) policies of the last ten years within both the party and the trade unions, not to mention within the public itself, and for at the very least for a line to be drawn under the control freakery of the past. McDonnell's candidature would have reignited debate within the party, helped to soothe the anger about numerous policies decisions and made clear to Brown that no longer could the leadership arrogantly and haughtily ignore the will of the activists and nominally Labour supporting masses within the country.

Instead, what happened was exactly what McDonnell's nomination would have helped to counter. When Michael Meacher, who up to the beginning of the week had been conducting an exercise in his own vanity finally abandoned his own leadership bid, for a few hours it was possible to believe that the left would be able to unite and fight for their right to be heard. In fact, the fracture stayed irrevocably broken.

It didn't have to be this way. If the Socialist Campaign and Compass groups of MPs had both combined their efforts, they could have easily got McDonnell on the ballot. Compass, in a mealy-mouthed statement on Brown's ascension, says:

On the leadership we know some Compass members and supporters will be very disappointed that John McDonnell didn’t get the backing to get on the ballot. A debate based on a challenger would have been a good thing. If there had been a contest we would have balloted you on who to back. But the Labour election process is not a debating society. MPs were nominating who they wanted to lead the country and the Party into the next election to successfully fight off the growing challenge from David Cameron. Many MPs who are members of Compass or have worked with us have supported Gordon Brown. Some backed John McDonnell. We think backing Gordon Brown was the right thing to do. John McDonnell is a decent and hard working MP but it’s just not credible to argue that his platform offers a leadership alternative to Gordon Brown. This is about who should represent the Party to the nation.

This is a nonsense. The MPs themselves are nominated by the constituency Labour parties; the Labour election process may not be a debating society during the parliamentary stages, but it is once the ballots are being sent out to the members of those very constituency parties. A vote was essential in order to gauge their hopes, fears and concerns after 10 years. Compass, a supposed grouping of MPs and others that are meant to be backing a return from the so-called radical centrism of Blairism to centre-leftism has helped in denying both the party and in effect, the country, as the debate would have been conducted nationwide and not just within the Labour party itself, a democratic choice over what direction should now be taken.

It turns out, thankfully, that we have nothing to worry or be disillusioned about, for Gordon has been "truly humbled". So humbled, that when he emerged to make his short, far from convincing speech on how things are going to change, that he couldn't help smiling and laughing in that discomforting way of his. It was obvious from the beginning that he would do everything in his power to try and block any contest: we now know for certain that his own band of groupies worked their damnedest to stop Meacher's supporters from switching their votes. At the weekend, the Mail on Sunday, which along with its sister daily is very favourable about Brown, published the allegations about John Reid which were talked about that made him finally drop his own bid, digging up old tales about Reid propositioning a female MP while he was an alcoholic. Reid might be a bastard Blairite thug, but smear campaigns are still beyond the pale. With Reid dropping out, Clarke and Milburn were the only other possible candidates, and both turned out to be too cowardly to even attempt to get on the ballot, despite their sniping, attempts at character assassination and ridiculous 20:20 vision site. The desperate attempts to put forward David Miliband were always doomed to end in failure.

There's been some suggestions that John McDonnell was simply too far left even for the left, and that another candidate would have done better, but no one else was either prepared to put themselves forward, or were even more obscure than McDonnell himself. Could Jon Cruddas have made the same arguments he's making in his deputy leadership bid? Would John Denham, a well-respected MP and to the left of the Blairites, had any chance?

Not that it will have necessarily made difference. The arguments, both from Brown and the Blairites, directed against both Jon Cruddas and McDonnell, are that they're only interested in taking the party back to the 1980s; in case they haven't noticed, Labour has recently been at around 1983 levels of support in the opinion polls. Brown, both at the hustings last Sunday and yesterday gratuitously insulted the left, even after McDonnell had praised his intellect. In one sentence he was promising that he would try to earn the trust of those that think the political system doesn't listen, then in the next denying those on the "far left" that trust because "they simply don't have support for their views in the Labour party", thanks to Brown's ruthless suppression of dissent and hushed threats towards anyone thinking of supporting McDonnell. We now face 6 long weeks of Blair's odious goodbye tour before Brown even ascends properly to the throne, full of the same inane, television-smashing inducing double acts like that seen yesterday in Washington. Even now Blair's seemingly endless vanity cannot be assuaged.

After 10 years of one hegemony, another will eventually begin. Should the left, as McDonnell urges, organise, or is it time that it finally woke up and realised that Brown's brave new Labour party seems to be just a continuation of the same old policies that simply aren't working? Should it shift its support behind Jon Cruddas, the only credible candidate for deputy leader, even though he supported both the war and now supports Brown, or should it instead jump off the deep end and back Blears, knowing that such an outcome will only help bring nearer the demise that it's sleepwalking towards?

The Labour party is dead. Long live the Labour party.

Related posts:
Blairwatch - The King is Dead
Nether-World - Sad day for democracy
Stumbling and Mumbling - The end of the left?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007 

First extract the rafter from your own eye.

What it is about former home secretaries that causes them to go slowly but inexorably mad? David Blunkett now spends his days when he's not advising companies on the ID card scheme that he helped create firing off numerous letters courtesy of his lawyers to newspaper editors, who've dared to make some tiny mistake or perceived slight about his ministerial career. Charles Clarke, somewhat understandably embittered by his sacking by Blair, has since spent his time doing everything possible not to undermine the prime minister, but instead his perceived successor.

Even more puzzling is the Grauniad's role in all this. It not only reports Clarke's latest missive, but reprints it in the comment section. The sad thing is that Clarke does identify some genuine problems that Labour has to face: it's created a media monster through spin which will now be close to impossible to put down; Labour does have to be renewed, and urgently and a leadership contest would be welcome.

Then he blots it all by reminding us of his hypocrisy:

It is certainly right that there are divisions caused by those candidates for leader and deputy leader who have entered the contest before there's a vacancy, who have publicly appointed their campaign managers, and who prefer backroom conspiracy to open discussion of the policy challenges we face.

These actions weaken the party. But they also undermine the authority of the prime minister when authority is important, as in relation to Iran today. These matters have to be dealt with by a strong prime minister. They cannot be addressed by a leader-in-waiting, and divisions in the ruling party do not help.

While Clarke has simply preferred, along with Alan Milburn, to start a fully out in the open conspiracy designed to flush out a New Labour/Blairite candidate to oppose Brown for the leadership. These actions have weakened the party by making it even less likely that there will be a challenger, as none of them want to have the millstone around their necks that is two men implacably opposed to Brown who are dedicated to continuing the dead New Labour project, even if it's in a lighter form.

It's time for Labour politicians to stand up and address the only question which matters, both for us and the country: how can Labour win again?

As David Clark identifies, Blair's refusal to stand-down, coupled with the anger and denial of reality by the ultra-Blairites has made it close to impossible for anyone to emerge out of the 10 years of power unscathed. In short, Labour can't, thanks in part to the in-fighting. The Tories have caught on, as Mr Eugenides notes, bigging up the threat from David Miliband when there is none, all as part of a ploy to try to further damage Brown. Along with Turnball's attack on Brown's "Stalinism", it's working.

As little sympathy as I have for New Labour, it's still dismaying to watch the party tear itself to pieces over a leader that has never loved it and has only used it for his own gain. If there is to be life after Blair, the party has to realise that almost everything associated with the Blair era has to go. Trying desperately to cling on to parts of it, as Charles Clarke and the others like him are attempting to do will only help to further destroy it.

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