More reasons for Brown to go


3:19 pm - July 26th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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A common reason cited against getting rid of Gordon Brown by lefties is that replacing him with another Blairite would not change anything. Ideologically, perhaps. But then it’s quite difficult to figure out what this government stands for ideologically anyway. But there are now overwhelming strategic reasons for getting rid of Brown.

Let’s start with the assumption that none of us want a massive Conservative party victory at the next general election. To keep the Tories at bay then this New Labour government has to avoid two things at least:

1) Make stupid decisions that backfire in their faces. I think the Norwich North debacle amply demonstrates this is not a safe bet. Brown has previously shot the Labour party in the foot over: 10p tax, Royal Mail, 42 days detention, our civil liberties and a whole raft of other stupid initiatives. Unless the leader changes these debacles will carry on.

2) Avoid letting the Tories set the agenda. Now this is a point about messaging, communication and narratives. Here, Gordon Brown’s government has been doing even worse. After the financial crisis I repeatedly pointed out that the Tory narrative about debt was in danger of overshadowing the Labour line on the need for a stimulus to the economy. That debate has now been lost and the public is overwhelmingly worried about public debt.

Then they started a row about ‘Tory cuts’ and instead of pushing them on the back foot, the Tories managed to turn it around and make the story about how Labour was hiding the extent of the cuts they were planning. It was a shambles and made them look even more dishonest. (Of course, both parties are being dishonest).

In other words, thinking that Labour’s prospects can be salvaged by getting the public to realise the ‘true nature’ of the Tories is now naive. The administration is in shambles even over strategy let alone ideology. Brown has to go, and take his bad management style with him. Only then can Tory gains be minimised.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


True, but who can they replace him with? If they’re going to fight it on public spending cuts, it’ll have to be someone who hasn’t got Blairite form, and there aren’t many of those around.

You’re right that they can’t win with Brown in there, though. They all know that. I just presume the fact he is still there means they’ve abandoned hope and have already decided to do their regrouping in opposition.

The Tories are seemingly devising some kind of Austerity Thatcherism (the main lesson we should take from the economic crisis is that we need to privatize more), while Brown is bumbling around incapable of landing a single punch on them.

Remember “No time for a novice”? Good line, that one, but it was quite a while ago now…

Is there somebody – anybody – within the Cabinet who could act decisively, capture the public mood and not slither even further to the right? I don’t think there is. If there was, s/he would have grabbed the leadership by now. Don’t get me wrong; there are Cabinet ministers I admire (Alexander, E Miliband, Harman), but they don’t stand a chance with the public. They’d be the Labour Party’s Iain Duncan Smith. Then there are those whom, we are told, the public would respond to (Johnson), but who seem to have decidedly Blairite views.

I dunno, maybe the defeat would be smaller under Johnson. Maybe it would be worth it. Can’t see it happening though – the party seems absolutely paralysed.

You’re right on the money there, James. That’s exactly what the Tories are doing – public spending cuts have given them the justification they needed to go ahead with a cuts and privatisation programme that they would have gone ahead with anyway.

And you’re right to say Brown can’t land a single punch on them. Problem is, he’s associated with a similar ideology. Someone fresh is needed, with fresh ideas for public service provision and a more inclusive notion of what it is to be Labour. That someone isn’t really around.

Forget fresh ideas. That’s not really going to happen now. My point is, the only hope now is someone who can’t make things worse. Brown is.

Yep, you’re probably right. They are going to get a total hiding and Brown’s going to get a personal hiding.

Don’t think there’s any harm in continuing to point out the Tory agenda, though. It’ll pass the time until the inevitable.

Kate – You are exactly right. Brown is incapable of striking out. This is the man that privatised the Bank of England, after all. But yes, it’s a problem that goes far beyond him. Blair convinced almost the entirety of the Parliamentary Labour Party to abandon any vestiges of Labour socialism & instead embrace New Labourism. In this respect he was completely successful in achieving what he set out to do. The problem is that the entire point of this was to win elections, now that is clearly not going to happen the New Labour Party’s ideology is imploding, with nothing & no one left to suggest anything different.

Except for James “Please take the poor off our hands, Walmart” Purnell, of course, who has stuck upon the genius idea of re-packaging the re-branding project.

In short: we’re seeing a pack of opportunists run out of luck.

James; I don’t think it was much about persuasion. The whole structure of the Party, reorganised in the 1980s basically allows for the direct control and censure of anyone – especially candidates for office. The problem, then, wasn’t so much the persuasion of Blair but the evisceration of some of the most active layers of the Party by a combination of witch hunting and disaffection with the leadership, thus removing the only thing sustaining candidates with a backbone. People like Dennis Skinner will never be seen again without massive changes.

On the subject of the article though, the whole point of it seems misguided. Lefties aren’t the sort of people one has to convince where Brown is concerned. We’ll happily off Brown: but who to replace him with is tricky. It’s facile to say no one else can make things worse – we have no way of knowing that, in the same way that the people demanding Brown go, who were cheerleaders at the time of his coronation, didn’t expect things to go so wrong. Which leads me to another point: it’s not all about the individual.

Had we the roots in our constituencies, or the energised activist base, it would matter a lot less who was leader – and re-establishing these things are (I would suggest) more immediately important than ditching a leader. These things can be done by PPCs and sitting MPs. It’ll look hypocritical and self-serving to begin with, but is really the only hope at this point – and, who knows? It may do some good. The problem that remains is to convince PPCs and sitting MPs that getting the local trades unions together for a sit-down, glad-handing their members and going cap in hand to other smaller organisations (community activists, minority parties etc) is a good idea. Ideologically, of course, most PPCs and sitting MPs will be categorically opposed to such a notion – see my earlier comment on why they all seem so spineless.

Only when such winds of change begin blowing through the Party will there be a snowball’s chance in hell of replacing Brown. Continuing such calls, however, while knowing there’s no chance of anything being done (there being no link between grassroots opinion and the PLP) just seems like pissing in the wind.

Don’t think there’s much chance of gladhanding the union grassroots at the moment. They wouldn’t give the Labour party a tin-ful of cold piss as things stand.

Unison has just sent four oustanding grassroots activists down for three years on a massively trumped up charge to do with a pamphlet. The truth is that the union attacked these activists for being socialist party members whose call for Unison to break the Labour party link had begun to catch on with the grassroots. The punishing of these four shows exactly where New Labour and its upper-hierarchy union mates are at – crushing and eliminating anyone dares to say they can’t see the advantages of the New Labour project. Both the party and the union are MILES away from fresh thinking or reform.

Unions and the Labour party are going to have their work cut out restablishing grassroots bases. They haven’t just crushed leftleaning members of their respective organisations – they’ve run them out of town. At this rate, there’s not going to be anybody to do the rebuilding with.

If by ‘replacing Gordon Brown’ people are really saying ‘replacing the philosophy of the Labour have been using for the last ten years, purging the Party of its so called ‘modernisers’, then fair enough, but the worse time to do that is about a year before the election. Nothing is going to be achieved in ten months if you are attempting to retool the entire party. Even if it were possible, would it be wise to do so during a recession? Nothing you do could change the fortunes of the economy around in short notice.

If by ‘replacing Gordon Brown’ they mean remove Gordon Brown and replace someone with a nicer face then that is possibly the most stupid move Labour could do. Not only in terms of the next election, but long term too.

The things that Sunny has correctly identified as making the Party unpopular are the very things that have been popular for the last ten years. The ‘light touch’ regulation of the banking industry has sank its fairly large incisors into the Labour’s ample rump and things are looking grim.

Who were they people arguing for better regulation of the City the day before Northern Rock collapsed?
Who were the people who were demanding better employment rights for workers?
Who were the people arguing against more privatisations?
Who were the people demanding progressive taxation and closing tax loopholes?

If you were arguing for the above, then well done, keep the pressure on, but those who are calling for Brown’s head, but were unwilling to be counted when everything was going to plan, well hell mend you. Changing leadership is not changing your fate one iota. If you want a ‘Right of Centre Labour Party then Gordon Brown is the man for the job.

If there are people who can communicate the Party’s message better then why are they so silent? Who are these ‘great communicators’ waiting in the wings? Why aren’t they banging the drum for the minimum wage or the health service etc? Why are they keeping their powder dry? Could it be that they are simply waiting for Gordon to fail so they can ‘rescue’ the Party? Where are the outspoken defenders of Gary McKinnon, tilting at the windmills of ‘The great Satan’ is an easy way to get the blood of the left up.

There are too many people who are invested in Labour failure to speak up now. This Brown/Blair battle was all good fun, but now the Country is suffering for it now.

Listening to ‘Any Questions’ Friday night was an eye (or should that be ear) opener. Peter Thatchell made the point, not the first to make similar points in recent weeks, regarding the growing gap between rich and poor. He suggested that it was an stain on Labour. The Tory said it was true, but the Labour MP (can’t remember him I am afraid) sat in silence, because it was true and what is more it is sanctions by the Party.

Too many times people say things on these programmes where the Labour stooge is silent, because the fundamentals behind those points are true. Too easy to sack employees, tax system hurts the poor, banks given too much, expenses are an outrage. Too manuy things that we were quite happy about five years ago are killing us now.

i know its awaste of time me saying this but why are you all giving yourselves so much pain flogging a horse you beleive is probably dead ? why not join the Lib-dems or the Greens, where you can at least affect policies ? hope your all feeling better soon.

A “massive Conservative party victory” wouldn’t bother me to be honest, in part because I’m planning to emigrate in the next 36 months. But another is the same reason (as noted above) why Gordon Brown is still in a job: the talent isn’t there. Twelve years of continuous government have left the upper echelons of the Labour party devoid of meaningful talent; what ‘stars’ there were are either long gone or burnt out. Whether the Shadow Cabinet is packed with ability is rather a moot point; the current Cabinet seems to be of such a low calibre that the only possible direction is up.

“Who were they people arguing for better regulation of the City the day before Northern Rock collapsed?
Who were the people who were demanding better employment rights for workers?
Who were the people arguing against more privatisations?
Who were the people demanding progressive taxation and closing tax loopholes?”

Um, well I was for one. As were thousands of union members, etc, and countless bloggers, etc. Would agree that the mainstream press has been a little remiss on covering the above fronts. Plenty of Labour party members have voted with their feet, too – haven’t several hundred thousand of the left in recent times?

Don’t remember people being that happy about Labour five years ago, either, in spite of what you say – hatred of privatisation, Iraq War, PFIs, huge city bonuses, etc, was well underway then, at least on the left. Labour’s abandoning of its grassroots was well in train five years ago. Brown’s failed leadership and the recession is seen by persons such as myself as the last act in a particularly disappointing play – not as a couple of unfortunate, one-off incidents that suddenly soured my view of this Labour party.

Regarding the communication of the party’s message – I think there has to be a better message for the party to communicate. “Vote for us because we’re less shit than the Tories” ain’t much of a message.

etc

If Labour are to win they need to attract the votes of the self emloyed and those working in small and medium sized enterprises. In a small company , if money is wasted it goes bust. Labour can prove it has increased expenditure on education and NHS,
it needs to prove that it has provided value for money. Many people are listening to the Tories because they consider there has much profligate spending and therefore, as the situation is serious, cuts are necessary.

One aspect which is often ignored is that too many people running SMEs have problem attracting school leavers of the right calibre. If those in SME were praising in the increase in quality of the school leavers over the last 12 years , then Labour would attract far more support. If shopkeepers said crime and anti -social behaviour had greatly reduced under Labour , then it would attract far more support.

i know its awaste of time me saying this but why are you all giving yourselves so much pain flogging a horse you beleive is probably dead ? why not join the Lib-dems or the Greens, where you can at least affect policies ? hope your all feeling better soon.

The reason the Labour Left haven’t left for the Lib. Dems (who went into the 2005 election saying tax the rich, end the war in Iraq, do remember) was that the Lib. Dems are a mixture of the Liberal Party (the opponents of the Labour Party since its inception) and (far more importantly) the SDP, a splitter faction of the LP. If there’s one thing that all the Labour Party hate, it is a splitter.

This piece of history has meant that any suggestion the LibDems be more viable as a left-wing is instantly dismissed. Additionally, much of the Labour left is unionist (or at least wishes to pretend to be) & the Labour Party is argued to be the only political ties with links to the Labour movement, which to be fair the LibDems do indeed lack.

Greens are too small, in short.

Sunny, whilst all your arguments are correct and good, I can’t help thinking the article is 6 weeks late.

Brown is manifestly not going to be replaced – so this all seems a little “old news”…;)

Kate Belgrave @14

I was talking within the ranks of the Parliamentary Party. No way was I attacking the rank and file of the Labour Party. The same people who sat quietly as Blair handed the keys to number ten over to Brown. I agree that grass roots supporter have tried to make their voices heard, but the same people within the PLP who are now looking for ‘change’ were the same people who walked into lobbies as Labour Party beliefs were quietly dropped.

Let’s face it. Had the banks not crumbled two year ago and the expense claims not come to light, these same people would be describing people like us as ‘dinosaurs’.

James,

Are you really trying to say that Labour haven’t left the Lib Dems because of historical factors, because of tribal grudges lasting two decades?

See, I think it probably has more to do with the Lib Dems being [can’t write this bit for another month, as would like to keep present job until go back to Uni. But you get the idea].

It is a tribal thing. It is also a historical thing (origins of the SDP).

Like I said, LibDems were far more left-wing than the Labour Party going into the last election. People may well have been too prejudiced to see this due to the residual animosity from the SDP split. That’s understandable, that’s history, that’s tribalism. That’s why they haven’t left, regardless of whether that was a good move or not.

A few points in response:

The problem is that the entire point of this was to win elections, now that is clearly not going to happen the New Labour Party’s ideology is imploding, with nothing & no one left to suggest anything different.

From a Labour party perspective – it’s perfectly natural to worry about winning elections as much as having the right ideas and policies. Tony Blair did win elections for them – it’s just shame that he felt he had to go so far as to junk all of Labour’s history and ideas in order to do so.

I think he went too far. But I maintain that some aspects of modernisation – for example junking the traditional hatred of capitalism, not being totally in thrall to the trade unions etc – needed to be done.

David:
We’ll happily off Brown: but who to replace him with is tricky. It’s facile to say no one else can make things worse – we have no way of knowing that, in the same way that the people demanding Brown go, who were cheerleaders at the time of his coronation, didn’t expect things to go so wrong. Which leads me to another point: it’s not all about the individual.

It is. a lot. I’m talking specifically about a leader who cannot take the right decisions nor be able to lead the party through the right communication and messaging. That is also quite important.

You cannot come back to ideology every time. In this case it is also about having bad strategies. The decision to make the public debate about ‘Tory cuts’ is strategy. To then lose control of the message and put the Tories in control of that debate is a failure of that strategy.

Jimbo:
If by ‘replacing Gordon Brown’ people are really saying ‘replacing the philosophy of the Labour have been using for the last ten years, purging the Party of its so called ‘modernisers’, then fair enough

I’m not. I’m actually saying the modernisers are lead by a man who cannot win public arguments for them.

i know its awaste of time me saying this but why are you all giving yourselves so much pain flogging a horse you beleive is probably dead ? why not join the Lib-dems or the Greens, where you can at least affect policies ? hope your all feeling better soon.

plumbus – believe me I’d like nothing more right now than a huge upsurge in support for the Libdems across the country. But that isn’t happening according to the polls. Labour still remains the main opposition.

Even then – this isn’t about who should join what party. I’m saying the party in government cannot put up an effective counter-balance to the Tory message machine. The Libdems certainly can’t. So something needs to change.

There is nothing Brown himself can do to avoid a defeat at the next election. He might be doing a good job and working hard, but if he can’t connect with the voters then he’s got no chance – and he cant. Bar the Conservatives spectacularly self-imploding they will win the next election with a large majority – if Brown is still leading the Labour Party.

Assuming at the moment Labour are consigned to defeat at the election, whoever the leader, then they need to choose whoever can reduce the Tory majority the most, regardless of ideals. That can be dealt with after the election.

From a Labour party perspective – it’s perfectly natural to worry about winning elections as much as having the right ideas and policies.

My contention was that New Labour cared about nothing else.

But I maintain that some aspects of modernisation – for example junking the traditional hatred of capitalism, not being totally in thrall to the trade unions etc – needed to be done.

“Traditional hatred of capitalism”? I think you’ll find that Labour (Old Labour, this is) officially embraced the neo-liberal consensus in the late 1970s, under Callaghan. As for “being totally in thrall to the trade unions”, well again, I think that that was a right-wing talking point rather than a reality. Perhaps the Unions needed less power, but there’s always the matter of who the party is for, if it isn’t them. Is the point of it to allow a tiny mandarin elite to have a national organisation at their beck & call? That is what Blair seemed to think (it is unquestionably the Mandelson Approach, I think we can agree) & look how well that worked out…

traditional hatred of capitalism,

Bloody hell, Sunny, that’s a bit OTT.

I don’t recall Neil Kinnock or John Smith well into the 90s wearing Red Brigades t-shirts, unless I blinked.

I know you said that Tony Blair went too far, but yes, REALLY he did go too far, if anything in terms of control freakery and the way he neutralised debate in the party. One only has to remember the titanic struggle in 1999-2000 with a heavyweight like Ken Livingstone, and that wes the only time Blair was challenged internally in 10+3 years (1994-2007).

One thing must be said. Even a donkey would have beaten the Tories in 1997. I know it’s speculation, but let’s not give Tony Blair too much credit. Yes, he was a great liar and fantastic as acting all prim and prissy, but seriously in 1997 the Tories had just run out of steam and were killing each other over Europe.

One policy would be enough to stop the Tories and it won’t happen under Brown – a referendum on PR. It would put the Tories on the backfoot as the only party opposed to democracy. What Labour have been missing is support from the L.Dems. The L.Dems follow the bellweather of public opinion and now argue the Tory line on a number of policies. Labour advocacy of PR would break that spell – the L.Dems would back Labour to the hilt on it and with Labour, L.Dems and other parties again singing from the same hymm sheet (like they were in the 1990s) it would boost Labour support.

Virtually any leader would do better than Brown – who has proved himself totally inept – Alan Johnson, Ben Bradshaw, John Denham are all long-time supporters of PR. Even John Cruddas is now on board – how could the Tories successfully argue against a referendum on the issue with one of these making a fresh case for reform during a press honeymoon?

People know that the way we elect MPs is failing them – this is the perfect time to ask them whether they want to keep the present system. If put to them in the context of the expenses debacle, it would be hard for even the Tory press to win the argument.

Now is definitely the time to do it. Labour will kick themselves if after 13 years they allow the Tories back in on a pitiful share of the vote and a pathetic turnout. The Tories don’t need majority support to have a big majority of seats.

Imagine Cameron and his hard-right Tories winning their third term on just 35% of the vote and inflicting all sorts of pain on the country, the majority of which are sick to death of Tory rule but unable to remove them. Tory remedies for the constituition are all anti-democratic – taking us backward. Labour have to embrace reform before the Tories make changes that embed the status quo – scrapping impartiality rules on broadcasters, enlarging boundaries and ignoring geographical and administrative considerations that will make a nonsense of the so called ‘constituency link’.

For those who say decision making is too slow under coalition governments – look at public services in Scandanavia and Germany. The facts do not fit the Tory lies about PR.

Sunny @21

“I’m not. I’m actually saying the modernisers are lead by a man who cannot win public arguments for them.”

Then that begs the rather obvious question:

Who can get the message across? If they are in the frame then why aren’t they rattling up support? Why are they prepared to hide their light under a bushel? Lets face it, if he or she does exist, then they would stick out like a sore thumb among the front bench. All I see is a sorry line of empty jerseys, muttering to themselves as the Party are kicked in the groin at every opportunity.

The other issue being what price our democracy if we (whoever ‘we’ are) if we can simply ‘jaunty’ our way into Parliament? The Tories were bounced into choosing ‘Blokey Boris’ as their candidate, not because he had great policies, but because he was a funny character.

What happens if a new face provides a dead cat bounce and we aid politics becoming about great hair and straight teeth?

The difficulties with labour’s economic stimulus narrative do not derive simply from Ineptitude in the present. They are also hostages to the past decade when by conventional keynesian standards which they are now seeking invoke they fucked it up by deficit spending in a boom.

28. Rowan Davies

@25: there’s an article in the Observer today saying that Brown is considering just that (a referendum on AV alongside the general election). I wish I could believe it.

Claude, James – I’m not saying the upper hierarchy had a hatred of capitalism. My point is that vast swathes of the party gave the impression that capitalism had to be taken down. Or at least that the Labour party was anti-business. Blair’s modernisation programme was all about challenging that narrative across the country.

well again, I think that that was a right-wing talking point rather than a reality. Perhaps the Unions needed less power, but there’s always the matter of who the party is for, if it isn’t them

I don’t think a party like Labour, in the current state of affairs, can solely be about people who belong to the trade unions. I do think the unions needed less political influence but feel it has probably gone too far.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m massively in favour of trade unions. I’m massively in favour of unions trying to impact the political process. I just think sometimes unions end up screwing over their own workers and/or Labour in pursuit of their interests.

Anyway – I think the Labour electing coalition cannot merely be trade unionists. The political map has changed. So that change needed to be made anyway.

One policy would be enough to stop the Tories and it won’t happen under Brown – a referendum on PR.

I don’t think anyone in Labour is convinced by PR – more by AV. There is a report today that Labour is going to use electoral reform as a wedge issue but I’m not convinced it will work.

What happens if a new face provides a dead cat bounce and we aid politics becoming about great hair and straight teeth?

Well there’s a few points here. First, Boris may have been bumbling but he won also because Ken came over as tired, without any new serious policies – and unable to use Boris’s bumbling personality against him. Now you can blame the electorate for that but frankly that was Ken’s fault.

The hair and teeth point is an important one. It is now a fact that a politician needs to be good at communicating through the media if they want to get to the public. Unless the left can build an alternative mass movement then the media remains the primary medium of communication.

Given the state of affairs – you can either make two choices. You can either say I’m not going to give in to the way the media works. In which case you’re either shut out of political power, or you can build up your alternative medium. I would support any initative that does the latter.

But I also believe that it’s not impossible to use the media, as a leftie, to pursue your own ends. Obama does it to great effect even though the cable and the radio networks are against him. But he’s a master communicator and he gets people on side while the Republicans look like angry idiots.

Unless there is a viable alternative, I’m not going to turn my nose up and say we should eschew communication and messaging because we don’t want to play by the rules of the current state of affairs. It is the current state of affairs and if you cannot communicate well on a BBC interview then you’re fucked (and I’m not saying I’m any good at this by the way. I’m terrible, because it’s a difficult thing to master).

They are also hostages to the past decade when by conventional keynesian standards which they are now seeking invoke they fucked it up by deficit spending in a boom.

Well yes, I’ll accept that good point too. I expect they really thought they had escaped boom and bust.

Blair’s modernisation programme was all about challenging that narrative in the media.

Precisely. To do that, the sacrificial lamb was the working class, who had nobody else to vote for.

I don’t think a party like Labour, in the current state of affairs, can solely be about people who belong to the trade unions. I do think the unions needed less political influence but feel it has probably gone too far.

Hm. Well me neither, which suggests your argument here is something of a strawman, really. There have always been left-wingers of an educated & not working class backgrounded people in British politics (scaling from me to Tony Benn in ascending order of greatness, basically). They’ve always been there, they often caused loads of problems & were disproportionately radical (see: the Independent Labour Party, the Socialist League, etc…), but they’ve always been there, & never been trade unionists.

What New Labour proposed was that we purge both the non-lackey unionists and the bobo left-wingers, to be left with solely a professional political elite who spoke in the terms of “narratives” & “demographics” which you use. Basically packing the party with people who cared about beating the Tories & precious little else (besides possibly thinking that aggressive wars were great, but that part came later).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m massively in favour of trade unions. I’m massively in favour of unions trying to impact the political process. I just think sometimes unions end up screwing over their own workers and/or Labour in pursuit of their interests.

So in pursuit of the worker’s interests they screw over the worker? Well sure, I could believe that. But I don’t see how the solution was ever going to go well if it consisted of centralsiation of power to a tiny cadre of marketists who would do what they could to keep a roomful of businessmen happy. I’m not going to say that Labour was perfect how it was, naturally, I’m just pointing out that “Modernisation” was always going to end up how it did.

Anyway – I think the Labour electing coalition cannot merely be trade unionists. The political map has changed. So that change needed to be made anyway.

Obviously. When was it ever merely trade unionists, though? Possibly the early 1900s?

Tony Blair did win elections for them – it’s just shame that he felt he had to go so far as to junk all of Labour’s history and ideas in order to do so.

I think you lack a key historical insight here, you have to appreciate the affect of two things:

1) Being out of power for 18 years
2) The power of the media to destroy anything remotely leftist getting elected.

Tony Blair/New Labour did exactly what it needed to do to get elected in terms of junking policies and reviving the brand.

I don’t think the media has the power to destroy the left – the left does a better job of stabbing itself. Witness the current uhming and aahhing over one of the most incompetent leaders the party has ever had. He does a job of killing the left better than the media does.

Blaming the media for the failure of the left is a bit too easy.

James – you asked above but there’s always the matter of who the party is for, if it isn’t them

I simply said the party isn’t merely about trade unionists and the working classes. I’m glad we agree.

Also, whether you like it or not, narrative and messaging are important in politics. Whether you think it’s some poncy middle-class obsession is neither here nor there. If youre suggesting I have no ideology – then that’s a separate issue.

What New Labour proposed was that we purge both the non-lackey unionists and the bobo left-wingers

Given the tendency of many people on the left to willingly fuck themselves over, I’m not surprised there developed a hatred of that kind of politico.

Back to the main point – I’m still unsure if there’s any argument in favour of Brown other than ‘well, how do you know things would improve??’

James – you asked above but there’s always the matter of who the party is for, if it isn’t them

I simply said the party isn’t merely about trade unionists and the working classes. I’m glad we agree.

I’m cool with it being for the Unionised working class and other sections of society, it’s when it’s for other sections of society and not the Unionised working class that we start to run into problems. Wouldn’t you say that that’s a pretty accurate description of its present predicament, the latter one of those two?

Also, whether you like it or not, narrative and messaging are important in politics. Whether you think it’s some poncy middle-class obsession is neither here nor there. If youre suggesting I have no ideology – then that’s a separate issue.

I think that the old media have convinced you that “narrative” is important (I don’t know who mentioned “messaging”?). I suppose “poncy middle class obsession” is a reasonable description apart from the “poncy”, seeing as I’ve only heard middle class commentators talk about it. I don’t think they’ve all been poncy, David Finkelstein is big on the narratives for instance & he’s about as tolerable as neo-conservatives get, but I do think that that is outdated. Worked well in 1997, but the media is a very different beast now (not least thanks to you!)

At the moment what matters is forming activist communities. Obama managed that, the Tories have managed that, New Labour has been a catastrophic failure. That’s not because they’ve run out of story (although they undoubtedly have), that’s because they stand for nothing except getting into power. How many honest-to-god Blairites do you see online, Sunny? That Bring-Back-Blair blog (or whatever it was called) came across as a Troll site it was so uncommon (I’m still probably of the view that it was). New Labour is far too old school when it comes to media outlook, & I’m frankly rather baffled that you haven’t picked up on this.

Trying to fellate the editor of the Express just won’t cut it any more.

(& no, of course I wasn’t trying to claim that you were devoid of ideology. I just think that “narrative” & such terms are careerist politico babble. Your career is in politics, its totally understandable you’d use it. I don’t find it particularly meaningful, though.)

Given the tendency of many people on the left to willingly fuck themselves over, I’m not surprised there developed a hatred of that kind of politico.

Granted! But in doing so, there formed a stiff neo-liberal consensus within the inner-party which resulted in the total bankruptcy of character which your post notes.

Back to the main point – I’m still unsure if there’s any argument in favour of Brown other than ‘well, how do you know things would improve??’

I’m personally divided over whether the Labour Party are worth worrying about, at this stage.

Oh good lord, that was the mother of all formatting cock-ups…

Sorted out the formatting.

I think I agree on most of what you say above. Two points though. I’m not entirely talking about sucking up to the Daily Mail and Express crowd. I think elections can be won without doing that.

But that still requires an intelligent narrative and messaging machine. I don’t think the new media is strong enough yet to win elections but the Labour party could definitely try go over their heads. \

Nevertheless – despite Obama’s fantastic on the ground operation – do not ever, ever underestimate how sophisticated and massive his media messaging operation was. This is precisely why he can treat the national media with so much disdain and build up a good grassroots following. People need to be communicated with effectively and that simply isn’t about having a nice bunch of policies.

My second point is about you worrying about the health of Labour. My point is merely that the more Labour head towards complete collapse – the better the electoral prospects for the Tories. There is no polling evidence that people are tiring of Labour and going straight into the arms of the Libdems.

Sorted out the formatting.

Much appreciated.

I think I agree on most of what you say above. Two points though. I’m not entirely talking about sucking up to the Daily Mail and Express crowd. I think elections can be won without doing that.

But that still requires an intelligent narrative and messaging machine. I don’t think the new media is strong enough yet to win elections but the Labour party could definitely try go over their heads. \

Narratives are for the newspapers, was the gist of what I was getting at. I agree that they’re still important, but it’s important to recognise that giving ground to right-wingers (which is basically what a media-centred campaign requires, given that a hefty majority of the dailies are owned by rightists) is antithetical to what you need for a thriving community. New Labour was never really bothered with doing this, though – it just wanted to bag those swing voters.

I also think that your view regarding elections being possible to win without the Express-Mail-Sun axis is a substantial difference between you & New Labour.

Nevertheless – despite Obama’s fantastic on the ground operation – do not ever, ever underestimate how sophisticated and massive his media messaging operation was. This is precisely why he can treat the national media with so much disdain and build up a good grassroots following. People need to be communicated with effectively and that simply isn’t about having a nice bunch of policies.

I don’t really want to get into a debate about how far Obama’s campaign was top or bottom driven, although I suppose you know more on the matter than I. My point was that it’s widely agreed that the base Obama established secured the result. Perhaps more against Hillary than mad-man McCain with his utterly reckless VP pick, but still it was a group of millions of supporters/contributers/activists who carried him to victory. At the moment the Tories do have that kind of a network of supporters (smaller, but similar), the Labour Party does not.

It’s trying, far too late, to rectify this, but…Just compare Labour List to Conservative Home.

My second point is about you worrying about the health of Labour. My point is merely that the more Labour head towards complete collapse – the better the electoral prospects for the Tories. There is no polling evidence that people are tiring of Labour and going straight into the arms of the Libdems.

This is because Clegg is useless. Clegg is a man less noticeable than Iain Duncan Smith. Clegg is the reason I am not currently a LibDem.

Not sure I even want to bother participating in threads like these, but a couple of points:

#original post – If you genuinely don’t want a massive Tory majority, and you don’t think there is any realistic chance of a change of leader before the next election, a post speculating about what effect a change of leader might have is counter-productive to the extreme

#16 – most Left-Labour folks don’t feel the same way about the ILP or even the Socialist League. The point is the SDP were splitters who left the Party because they were to the right of the Party, not just that they were splitters. And even the most left elements of the Liberal Democrats aren’t anti-capitalist, whereas the most left elements of the Labour Party are (even in the PLP). But besides all that I’d argue that the Lib Dem leadership is to the right of the Labour leadership. Take the Lib Dems policy on narrowing university access, for example. Ultimately the Lib Dems have no class analysis, and imo therefore can’t be left-wing.

On the latest tangent: in terms of both messaging and central control, Obama ran the most top-down campaign I have ever seen. If Labour had run he same campaign we’d be accused of treating our volunteers as campaign fodder – don’t underestimate the extent to which the Obama campaign was successful because they’ve never run a proper ground campaign before.

38. – That was indeed the cause for additional acrimony. I think that the idea of the LibDems ever getting anywhere is still part of the central tenant of Left-Labourism: that “Splitters Get Nowhere”, which is to say it is based around dogma rather than being based around reality.

At the moment the LibDem leadership is something which I have no idea about. Like I said before, Nick Clegg is one of the greatest invisible men politics has ever encountered. In 2005 though, the last time I can recall the LDs standing for anything, they were for scrapping tuition fees, introducing a hefty tax on the wealthy & an end to the Iraq War.

Tell me that that was more right-wing than Blair. Go on.

As for your Obama claims, you haven’t provided me with any evidence so I can’t really make a proper response. It’s an assertion, not an argument.

Sunny H. I agree with your view of the media; to me they are like sharks ; they attack if they scent blood. The Sun attacked Major in 1992 post ERM fiasco.

Blair realised there were many voters who were not members of unions were aspirational and were not particularly attached to the Tories. If a poltical party cannot attract aspirational people, on average income who believe children should be brought up in a stable home with two parents, who believe those who work hard and are honest should benefit from their labours, then they are unlikley to win elections. In 1997 Blair persuaded the average person think they would have a better future under Labour. Most voters do not have political axes to grind , they just want to get on with their lives with a reasonable expectation that hard work and honesty will be rewarded. Brown just seems totally in capable of presenting this simple message in a believable manner. If Brown said it was sunny, most people would look out of the window to see if he was telling the truth. In 1997 m Blair could tell the public though it was raining , it would be soon sunny and people would believe him.

Some 3.5m buy the Sun, 2.5M The daily Mail and 1.5M The Daily Express. Why is it Labour cannot appeal to the average reader of these papers? Perhaps because too many of the middle class Labour supporter considers anyone who buys these papers neanderthal fascists which is hardly going to win support..

Yes Charlie, Blair made the Labour Party so popular amongst your imaginary median voter that party membership collapsed & they never got above 50% of the vote.

If the media didn’t have the power to destroy or undermine the left then why did Blair put so much effort into keeping Murdoch happy? Why was New Labour terrified of Daily Maily negative headlines? Again I think some historical insights are being missed here….

It’s because of our fucked electoral system. The media has a high-impact on the tiny proportion of voters who “swing”. If Blair had won with a slim majority, then implemented PR in 1997 we’d be in a far better position than big win Blair & the decade of stagnancy we did get.

It’s none of us *wants*, not none of us want. “None” is singular.

I don’t especially want a Tory majority; they will not do too much different from NuLab from today’s starting point.

But I do want a *humiliating* Lab defeat.

NB you may (out of Brown pique) be getting a referendum on PR yet…

http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/5222108/labours-referendum-gambit-wont-work-with-brown-in-charge.thtml

And enough already of the false-consciousness nonsense.
There is no appetite for a “real left” government. Blair (and Brown) knew that and that is why they won.
Tony Benn would not have won.

So we win by cheating. I do not care anymore if Cameron wins because if labour stay in I’m F*cked in New labour stay in I’m f*cked so I think I’ll be voting for change and stay at home.

48. Ken McKenzie

Could someone explain something to me?

In 2001-3, much of the West, including the US, actually had a recession. We didn’t (although the IT industry took a kicking and still hasn’t recovered).

Now, we’re not actually suffering particularly badly compared to everyone else.

Could you explain how that shows crap UK economic policy over the last 10 years, or would it have been better to have had the recession others had instead, and still had this one?

49. dreamingspire

Not who asked for more regulation just before Northern Rock crashed, but who pointed out the problem much earlier – I wasn’t in a position to ask, but with both Halifax and Bradford and Bingley (where family members had accounts) I said at the time of conversion that this will end in tears because it signalled the greed of the then Directors.

While agreeing that Blair (and Brown) changed Labour to make it electable, it seems to me that there then followed 12 years of pushing out anyone who wanted to be part of a college of people who would build on the foundation, leaving Blair alone on a pinnacle of power as the ground around him was eroded. Thus nobody good enough to take over and keep out the Tories.

As for LDs, the “A Fresh Start for Britain” says it all – back to wishy-washy Liberals. Where are Huhne, Cable et al?

41 – “As for your Obama claims, you haven’t provided me with any evidence so I can’t really make a proper response. It’s an assertion, not an argument.”

Local Labour organisers have much greater freedom to run campaigns how they think best than local organisers in the Obama campaign (I’ve worked as a campaign manager for the Labour Party, and volunteered on the Obama campaign).

As tim f says, one big reason for this is that in America they don’t have the same kind of campaigning infrastructure developed over many years, so the Obama campaign had to build it up mostly from scratch.

When you have masses of new volunteers who have never done campaigning before, more money than God, and are running against unpopular incumbents, then the top down approach works well because it ensures a minimum quality standard (all offices campaigning effectively rather than doing weird and random things).

When you don’t have much money, fewer (but more experienced) volunteers and you are the unpopular incumbents, then local flexibility is better because you can adapt the campaign to have the best chance for the local situation.

43. James. Blair won elections and dominated politics from 1995 to 2005. The problem was that Brown thwarted many of his attempts at reform. Blair won a wide range of support including many Tories. Cjcjc is correct , there is not appetite for a ” real left ” candidate . The average person in the UK has shown no inclination for a Tony Benn type Labour leader in the last 40 years .

Well thank you for responding to precisely none of my points, Charlie. In case you missed them, I shall reiterate: Tony Blair’s reign saw a collapse in Labour Party membership & he never won around a plurality of the British voters. He did win elections, but this is because the British electoral system is an unrepresentative monstrosity in dire need of reform. If Blair had fought elections under PR he would never have secured a majority.

As for the “Tony Benn type”, that’s a total straw man. I never said that things would have been great if the Labour hard-left had been in charge, I said that the systematic purging of that element of Labour (along with the trade unionists) damaged Labour by establishing an internal hegemon of pro-corporate neo-liberals. There’s a difference between “Should be running the show” & “Should be allowed to be a force inside the party”. I certainly advocate the latter, Blair made great efforts to ensure that it wasn’t true.

The result was the present mess. Thank you, Tony.

(& please, if you can’t be bothered to devise some garbled explanation for a leader being overwhelmingly popular despite having never convinced 50%+ of the electorate to vote for his party & while overseeing an immense collapse in membership to his party, don’t bother replying at all.)

Hi James,

“If Blair had won with a slim majority, then implemented PR in 1997 we’d be in a far better position than big win Blair & the decade of stagnancy we did get.”

How so?

I reckon we’d have had a broadly similar economic policy, would have gone to war in Iraq etc.

One possible change is that the government would probably have fallen last year when the economic crisis hit, in which case we might now be governed by a Tory/UKIP coalition…

James: “(& please, if you can’t be bothered to devise some garbled explanation for a leader being overwhelmingly popular despite having never convinced 50%+ of the electorate to vote for his party & while overseeing an immense collapse in membership to his party, don’t bother replying at all.)”

Just a little bit of historical context on your two arguments (party membership and vote share).

On party membership, you’ll actually find a pretty consistant fall from the 1950s to the present among all parties, not just Labour. It might be argued that Labour during Blair’s premiership suffered a more dramatic fall in membership than was previously occurring, but that is largely because of the increase in members (pretty much the only one in a major party between 1945 and the present) that occurred 1994-1997. In this sense then, it is a long-standing trend rather than a process attributable to a particular period or individual – as any graph of party membership in the postwar period will show.

On the lack of plurality (I take it you mean an absolute majority rather than a technical plurality – which simply means the most votes among all participants, which of course every post-war government other than the Cons in 1951 and Lab in 1974 has achieved), you are also setting the bar rather high – no party in the post-war period has achieved an absolute majority. The closest effort were the Tories in 1951, who got 49.7 per cent of the vote.

No, I am not. If you don’t have the support of a majority of Britons then why the hell should you have a stranglehold over the Commons?

“No, I am not. If you don’t have the support of a majority of Britons then why the hell should you have a stranglehold over the Commons?”

Worth remembering that the current voting system does not reward parties which seek to maximise their national share of the vote.

e.g. In 1997, lots of people who voted Lib Dem did so because the Lib Dems were best placed to get rid of the Tories, and Labour did almost no campaigning in their stronger constituencies. Under a different voting system, people’s voting intentions and parties’ strategies would have changed. It’s entirely possible that Labour could have got 50%+ under a different voting system in 1997 – though by 2005, not so much.

Reasons for Brown to go.
1. Totally misjudging the Gurkha /Lumley fiasco. Noone in Labour appeared to realise Lumley’s Father’s life had been saved in battle by a Gurkha who was holder of the VC.
Luley owed the her life and that of her Father to the Gurkhas; a debt of honour lmost impossible to pay.

2. MoD attempting to reduce payments to injured service personnel during a time when many are being killed in Afghanistan. An action which is morally repugnant and politically suicidal. Just from a politcal perspective, how could Brown consider this a good idea?


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