20 May 2007

This Party Will Self-Destruct in...?

How strange. There are mutterings that Wendy Alexander's Leadership Campaign is poised for action, awaiting only the announcement of a vacancy before it starts moving. Meanwhile, Malcolm Chisholm has suggested that there could be a contest even if there isn't a vacancy, and that McConnell could actually be an incumbent candidate.

Alexander's campaign hasn't started yet to avoid accusations of disloyalty: she remembers The Heseltine Precedent, in which he challenged Thatcher, managed to undermine her position enough to drive her out, but then lost a subsequent ballot to John Major. However, the fact that there is a campaign brings to mind an images of vultures not so much circling as preparing to swoop on the carcass, regardless of the fact that said carcass is still alive.

McConnell, on the other hand, ought to bear in mind that incumbency isn't necessarily a bonus. He was, after all, the incumbent First Minister, and look what happened there.

I said yesterday (and I stand by my comments) that Labour are in a stronger positon than I expected, but they're now in real danger of undermining themselves. If they turn their guns on each other, then that's it, goodnight. They will not be capable of fighting anyone but other Labour MPs and MSPs.

To be fair, this row has been brewing since the death of Dewar. McLeish did defeat McConnell, but only by a whisker, and only in an emergency panic contest to meet the 28-day deadline to appoint a new FM. It was only McConnell's good will that prevented a wider election. The fall of McLeish was a different story. John McAllion couldn't get seven signatures, nor could Malcolm Chisholm (who was initially a 'unity' candidate, then the challenger who would force a contest - that this represented a 180-degree turn didn't really get noticed at the time), and Wendy Alexander wussed out, despite emerging as the only credible challenger to McConnell. McConnell then walked in to the Leadership, and his first act was to purge the Cabinet, and stuff it with loyalists. The battle lines have been drawn since then and it's only office that has prevented the start of warfare.

And so here we are. A Labour opposition that could be mightily effective is about to implode. What state will it be in come 2009? Or 2011? We can only wait and watch, but a thought occurs. The main reason Labour have had such a vice-like grip on politics for a decade isn't that they were the primary opposition to the Conservatives, or the 1997 landslide. The main reason is that the Tories turned inward, and the enemies became each other rather than Labour. It took until Michael Howard for that to stop, and it took David Cameron to give the party a veneer of credibility, at least in England.

The SNP (narrowly) avoided a 1992 moment on May 3, but the 1997 moment was still just over the horizon. Thanks not to the election, but to the aftermath, it might, just might, be visible again.

1 comment:

Neil Craig said...

Labour are going to have to reform or at the very least appear to reform if theyare going to come back from this. For that McConnell has to go. Then they can tell the public "we're listening to you".

There is the strong chance that the SNP will do sufficiently badly that the other parties will gang up & turf them out. To do that would require a Labour leader closer to the other parties which is probably Wendy.