It has been quite some time since I last posted on this site. It has not been through choice however. Whilst the general election is hotting up in the US, politically, things are hotting up here in the UK. My fellow blogger, Dan O’Neill, commented about the amazing result for the Scottish National Party at the Glasgow East by-election. Since then the fall-out for Prime Minster, Gordon Brown, has been immense. Before I go into all that, I will give you some history.
The Conservative Party has never been frightened of getting rid of its leaders. Margaret Thatcher won three elections in a row, the last one being in 1987, but that didn’t stop a long time critic, Michael Heseltine, standing against her for the leadership in 1990. When she won the ballot, but not with enough votes to win outright, a deputation of senior colleagues marched in and out of 10 Downing Street telling her the game was up. She may have been a revolutionary force in politics, the first woman Prime Minister and the most successful Conservative leader in generations, but that did not mean the Conservative Party was going to be sentimental. Mrs Thatcher was gone within days and replaced by the newly elected leader, John Major.
Labour on the other hand are much more sentimental about their leaders. They put up with the disastrous leadership of Michael Foot from 1979-1983. Neil Kinnock led them from 1983-1992 and he was the one who decided it was time to go after losing two general elections as leader. He was lucky to survive after 1987, although he was popular with the mainstream of the party after expelling the far left ‘militant tendency’ in the mid-eighties. You would have thought though, after being trounced in the polls by Margaret Thatcher in 1987, he would have been replaced, but that was not to be. Even right up until last year, when Tony Blair resigned as leader and Prime Minister, the lack of a ruthless Labour edge was very visible. There was a whispering campaign against him and Gordon Brown – forever a thorn in Blair’s side – was forever briefing against him, however Blair still left, looking at least, as if he had chosen the time and date of his departure.
Therefore the latest machinations in the Labour Party do not necessarily mean that Brown will out of the door faster than you can say, ‘you’re fired.’ It is a much more complex procedure than that. A Labour leader can only be replaced at the annual party conference, which this year, as every year, takes place towards the end of September. The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who is an arch supporter of Tony Blair and quite frankly worships the ground he walks on, wrote an article for ‘The Guardian’, a left of centre national newspaper. In it he detailed what Labour needed to do to secure a mandate for a fourth term in office. This precipitated talk of a challenge to Gordon Brown. Miliband did nothing to stop the rumours, by not ruling out a challenge to Brown. Since then, other ministers have criticised Brown, three senior ministers have come out in support of Brown, and the rest – well – they have been deafening in their silence. They are keeping their options open, and who can blame them. Gordon Brown’s approval rating has hit just about rock bottom. Only one out of seven voters think he is up to the job, but the bad news doesn’t stop there for the government. None of Brown’s likely replacements are likely to fare any better at the polls. The only person who would come close to giving the Conservative Party a run for its money is Tony Blair, although I think the voters are looking at his premiership with the most expensive rose tinted spectacles money can buy. And talking of Blair, today a memo he sent to friends was leaked to the press. In it he savaged Brown’s premiership. This will certainly give heart to the Blairites remaining in the cabinet.
I have said many times that I do not believe Brown will be replaced in September. I still hold to that view. There still might be a challenge, although no serious contender in their right mind would want the job. Labour are far behind in the opinion polls. No party in the past has come back from this position and gone on to win a general election. It is far more preferable to let Brown lead the party into defeat and then pick up the pieces with a new leader. There is also the problem of a lack of a democratic mandate. Brown replaced Blair unopposed. The thought of another unelected prime minister is something the British public will not tolerate. They want to make these decisions at an election and would not like the Labour Party to make the decision for them, twice.
With the credit crunch, industrial unrest in the public services and open mutiny in the Labour Party, this summer is not going to be pleasant for Gordon Brown. He will have to show some leadership and steel, something he has singularly failed to do thus far, otherwise he will be forced out by Members of Parliament desperately worrying about their seats. As I said, it will be unwise to replace Brown sooner rather than later, however, rats deserting a sinking ship seldom think clearly before they jump.
- Andrew Allison