Monday, 8 June 2009

Can Gordon hang on?

A year or so ago, Gordon looked dead in the water, until he suddenly found himself saved by the global recession (surprising as that might seem). Now though he's obviously in deep trouble, with a considerable minority within the Parliamentary party wanting rid of him.

It's clear he's an electoral liability, and in most respects he has made a terrible Prime Minister, who has consistently made wrong judgement calls and been found out. Some of his ministerial appointments have been of talentless time-servers, presumably on the basis that they wouldn't call his policies into question; our recently departed Home Secretary being a case in point. And as for policies, there's ID cards, Trident, the shameful treatment of the Gurkhas, abolition of the 10p tax rate, and all the others where he appears out of touch with the electorate. Many of the ills of the UK economy are a direct legacy of his years as Chancellor. There's the MPs' expenses fiasco (not of his making admittedly) but he has displayed a singular reluctance to deal decisively over the issue, no doubt fearing too many of his colleagues would have to go. And that issue is particularly a problem for Labour (and Gordon Brown's brand of Labour) since it's a party that claims to stand for fairness and equality, not the accumulation of vast capital assets at the taxpayers' expense by a few MPs. Then there's his communication skills; set against him even the dull Jack Straw`appears positively charismatic. The strongest reason why Gordon should go though is the Damien McBride affair, utterly shameful conduct from a Prime Minister who promised us a Government 'free of spin'.

Set against that are the reasons he might yet stay. The first is that whoever replaces him will face irresistible demands for an election, and right now most MPs realise that they are going to take a terrible hiding - there's a good chance that they'll prefer to hang on simply because things can't get any worse, and might yet turn around. Then there's the economy. I have a feeling that the recession has bottomed out, and that another year might yet see sufficient improvement to limit the scale of Labour losses come the election. And there's a strong sense that the electorate hasn't yet bought into David Cameron's glib soundbites that pass for Tory policies these days.

The other problem Labour face is how they would go about choosing a new leader. They've tried the 'coronation' route, and that's why they've found themselves landed with such a catastrophic incumbent. If they want to find someone of genuine vision, with discernible policies, a contested election is vital. But the party constitution means that would take time, and the party would probably tear itself apart in the process.

One thing's for sure. If the party has lost faith in Brown, he will need to be told quite plainly and in private by a colleague. Clearly a job for Harriet, since she is the one member of the Government whose position in the party has been gained through a genuine election, rather than any form of largesse from Gordon. Since she has been staunch in her support, and repeatedly willing to stick her head above the parapet (unlike her colleagues) in doing so, her advice is all the more likely to be heeded.

My prediction? It's a tight call but I think that Labour will ditch Brown simply because events have acquired such momentum. However, they'll regret doing so when they face the electoral consequences since the party is likely to be decimated and may never recover.

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