06 January 2010

That's not a knife, that's a spoon!

This is what I said on Friday:

But what made the Tory wilderness years so bad, and the start of Labour's time as Scottish Opposition so cringeworthy wasn't the defeat itself, but the party's reaction to it. Firstly, the jockeying for positions began before the election took place, so the parties went into the contest divided. Secondly, the parties turned completely inward and started rowing with each other in the aftermath. If Labour can avoid that, they might be back on their feet by 2011.

This is what Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt have said today:

As we move towards a general election it remains the case that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is deeply divided over the question of the leadership.

Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance.

We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot.

This could be done quickly and with minimum disruption to the work of MPs and the government.

Whatever the outcome the whole of the party could then go forward, knowing that this matter had been sorted out once and for all.

Strong supporters of the prime minister should have no difficulty in backing this approach.

There is a risk, otherwise, that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across.

Equally those who want change, should they lose such a vote, would be expected by the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party to devote all of their efforts to winning the election.

The implications of such a vote would be clear - everyone would be bound to support the result.

This is a clear opportunity to finally lay this matter to rest. The continued speculation and uncertainty is allowing our opponents to portray us as dispirited and disunited.

It is damaging our ability to set out our strong case to the electorate. It is giving our political opponents an easy target.

In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we must have a determined and united parliamentary party. It is our job to lead the fight against our political opponents.

We can only do that if we resolve these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal.

So Hoon and Hewitt have opted for the backbiting. And what an idiotic idea! Firstly, they've made up the procedure - it doesn't exist within any Labour party rules. Secondly, it's not just the MPs who are supposed have a say on who the Labour Party Leader should be - it's the affiliated organisations (trade unions, mostly) and individual members who have a vote in the process. Thirdly, there was a chance for all of them - Parliamentarians, affiliated groups and party members alike - to have a secret ballot on the Leadership. That was in the Spring of 2007, when there was an official vacancy. But instead of using that obvious time to put forward this idea - of people deciding who should be the Labour Leader - Hoon and Hewitt declined to do so, failing to nominate an alternative candidate. So they drop their little bombshell now.

And what a time to do it! I know it's a tired line, but there's truth in it: David Cameron really hasn't 'sealed the deal'. Look at the opinion polls from December 1991, when Neil Kinnock looked like ousting John Major (but, as we remember, failed to do so). Look at the opinion polls from December 1996, just five months before Tony Blair's Labour party routed the Tories, the polls projected a far more severe gubbing than the one that actually occurred. If you take a look at last month's polls, you see that the gap between what was expected in the 1991 and 1996 polls and what actually happened in 1992 and 1997 is the gap that could make the difference between the currently projected slim Tory majority and a finely hung Parliament in the Spring.

David Cameron does not have his majority yet and he knows it: that's why he's courting LibDem voters; that's why he's trying desperately to dismiss the governing party of Scotland as an irrelevance (way to foster cordial relations with Bute House, Dave); that's why they're unveiling the results of some very carefully massaged polls in Scotland; that's why Nick Bourne and Cheryl Gillan attempted to dress up the defection of Mohammed Asghar AM and his daughter from Plaid to the Conservatives as a major coup - it had a symbolic quality, given Asghar's status as the only non-white AM, and it gave the Tories a couple of column inches on the day Rhodri Morgan passed the Labour Leadership baton to Carwyn Jones, but significant? Well, not in the grand scheme of things. They still have a lot to do before they can persuade all the people they need to persuade, and they're trying everything. They're not necessarily succeeding as clearly as they would have hoped either.

Yet if Labour figures are willing to do this to their own party at this time, Cameron need do nothing as Hoon and Hewitt have decided to hand him a majority on a silver platter.

And then look at the attack: "It is damaging our ability to set out our strong case to the electorate. It is giving our political opponents an easy target." Nothing about the direction of the party. Nothing about its platform. Not a dickie bird about the policies needed (or not) to present. It's all about the delivery. It's about the medium. It's a McLuhanite approach to politics: the medium is the message. Or, in this case, the messenger is the message. The only principle Hoon and Hewitt seek to espouse is the principle of winning an election. They don't have any new ideas and they don't even appear to have an alternative leader-in-waiting.

This utterly lame attempt at backstabbing reminds me of that scene in The Simpsons, when the family are in Australia. While the family are eating a meal, a local looks at the knives they're using and says, "You call that a knife? THIS is a knife!" At which point he produces a spoon.

That sums up the Hoon-Hewitt attack: they don't want Brown out, but have dreamed up an entirely new mechanism to eject him; they want to win the election, but argue that the best way to do so is to have some sort of catharsis just a short while before an election; they're tired of leadership speculation being in the press all the time, but do something which catapults it back onto the front pages; they want to end the row once and for all, but do so with a suggestion that key Labour figures proceed to pour cold water on but do so in such a half-hearted manner that their real view is obvious: they're not happy either, but think that either the plan isn't the real deal, or its proponents aren't. It's not a knife - it's a spoon.

And Brown has played 'Knifey-Spoony' before. Since the Glasgow East result, Brown has faced all sorts of vituperation and attacks from his own side. But none of them have pushed him out, because every time the killer blow was supposed to come, it didn't. Every time someone was ready to move against him, they didn't. The challenge - or at least, the challenger - has not materialised and Brown stands alone: unloved, unwanted but unopposed. The time to get him out was before he got in, back in the 2007 Leadership election. But that came and went, and Labour are stuck with him until the Election.

People describe Brown as unlucky, but he's not. To oust him, his challengers have only had to be lucky once. To stay, Brown has to be lucky all the time. His luck has got him this far and it will see him stay in Downing Street until polling day.

But luck can only get you so far, and with Labour MPs willing to see the party rip itself to shreds just to prove a point, the furthest luck can get Gordon Brown is polling day. After that, there's nothing he can do.

1 comment:

dress up hannah montana said...

I can't see brown winning.... but i think it will be very close