06 June 2009

The Beat Goes On

Let's just go through how things have turned out so far, starting with a few key points from the English County elections:

Labour have called the shots in Lancashire for 32 years. Yesterday more than half of their Counciilors lost their seats. They have controlled Nottinghamshire for 32 years as well: a group of 35 Councillors is now just 12.

In Norfolk, Labour were the main opposition group. They are now in fourth place, behind the Greens.

The most devasting result, however, is Staffordshire: Labour have controlled the County Council since 1981, and had 32 Councillors elected in 2005. They now have just three, and are in fourth place behind UKIP.

In Doncaster, meanwhile, they lost the Mayoralty to the English Democrat candidate.

And to make matters worse, Ian Gibson is forcing a By-Election in Norwich North. Which is why Labour's fall to fourth place there should be viewed with alarm: fourth place was precidely what they got in the County wards which (either wholly or partly) comprise the seat. The Tories came first with 12,531 votes; the Greens 6,030; the LibDems 5,702 and Labour with just 5,561. If the various swings displayed this week were repeated in the upcoming By-Election, Labour would lose the seat, coming second (which is less humiliating than fourth arguably) to the Tories. The Greens would come third and the LibDems fourth. UKIP, meanwhile, would come fifth, but would save their deposit.

With the wave of Cabinet departures, Brown's reshuffle did not go as planned: Smith, Blears, Purnell, Hutton, Hoon, Paul Murphy have all gone from the Cabinet, and Caroline Flint's temper tantrum at not receiving a promotion overshadowed proceedings somewhat. Incidentally, her outburst makes Labour the first party to be accused of sexism by both genders. And in her case, it hardly sticks: Smith was fundamentally damaged by her expenses (including darling hubby's porno flick) and probably had to go; Blears too was causing more harm than good and her resignation (coupled with that "Rocking the boat" badge) was an attempt to destabilise Brown further. Yvette Cooper has been promoted and Flint's petulant strop highlighted why she was pretty much unfit for office anyway.

But even without that, eyebrows should be raised. A number of ministers chose the timing and manner of their departure (that's not a good thing) and others have apparently put their foot down and made it clear that they too would head for the exit door if asked to move departments. As a result, continued briefings that Alistair Darling would be leaving 11 Downing Street proved to be wide of the mark. Unfortunately, this wasn't idle speculation by commentators, this was fed to journalists by key sources, suggesting that circumstances forced Darling and David Miliband to remain in situ.

Then there's the role of Peers. Leaving Alan Sugar aside, the one portfolio (besides Leader of the House of Lords, which really has to be held by one of its members) that you'd expect to to be held by someone from the Lords is the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary. It's held by a Commoner, Jack Straw. However, the Attorney General continues to be a Peer, Baroness Scotland, while the new Europe Minister is Glenys Kinnock, who will gain a Peerage. The new Transport Secretary is a Peer, Lord Adonis. And the Business Secretary is still Lord Mandelson, whose department assimilates the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and who assumes the title of First Secretary of State - a de facto Deputy Prime Minister.

How strange it is that Peter Mandelson, a man trailed by what cartoonist Steve Bell described as a personal miasma of low-level sleaze should become the Willie Whitelaw of the Labour Party. But that is where we are.

But there's a wider point: as things stand, he has twenty slots to fill from the House of Commons not including those posts which attend Cabinet despite not having Cabinet rank, such as Europe Minister. He has 348 people to fill those slots. That has not proven possible.

Which, with European election results and the possible reaction to them, begs the question, is Brown not trying hard enough or are the failings that will probably lead Labour to defeat at the next election failings not exclusive to the Prime Minister but shared by the whole PLP?

Even the Peers aren't immune from criticism however: Labour has 214 members of the House of Lords, yet Brown has had to create a new peerage for his new Europe Minister. Barring the twenty two Cabinet appointments (including those posts that typically go to Peers), that makes a total of 540 possible candidates.

348 people to fill twenty Cabinet jobs. 540 potential candidates for Europe Minister. And Brown has to find a 349th person for a Cabinet post, and a 541st person for Europe.

Maybe, under those circumstances, getting rid of Gordon Brown won't solve anything for Labour.

No comments: