Gordon Brown should probably resign, shouldn’t he?

It’s not an especially striking opinion, but having bollocksed up the election last Autumn, the 10p rate this year, and now the local elections, it’s hard to see why he should hang around, and I’m already bored of reading “Brown prepares fightback” headlines on the news websites. It’s probably time for him to invent a non-existent medical complaint and retire to full-time fatherhood — and then we can have the leadership contest the Labour Party was denied last year.

Although I thought, more or less, that Brown deserved to become Prime Minister last year, after the long dark night of Tony Blair, I certainly don’t think he deserves any sympathy or indulgence now he is Prime Minister, or any excuses being made for what has been a pretty unimpressive go at the job.

I think that my maternal grandmother wanted there to be a general election campaign on all the time, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far, I do think that in general we should be having more votes and more elections than we do, and party leadership contests are an OK second-best substitute for more frequent general elections. (We should certainly, for example, have a new Triennial Act, to make sure that we get these.)

I’m not yet entirely fatalistic about the prospect of crushing Conservative victory at the next election. When people try to tell me that the Government might be re-elected, they tend to say that British governments always do badly in the mid-term polls, but I’m inclined to believe that that’s nonsense. But here are two (fairly banal) observations.

One is that after about eight years or so of Thatcherism, I sometimes wondered what the point of a two-party system was if the other party didn’t get a turn from time to time, and it’s probably true that those non-Tories who had thoughts like that in the late 1980s and 1990s should be fairly sympathetic to people of any or no party affiliation who might be having similar thoughts today. If we’re going to have two-party politics, I’d rather that the parties alternated every five to ten years or so, than that they had these incredibly long runs at Government, which just leave everybody pissed off.

The other is that a lot of sensible people think that (with the wisdom of hindsight, admittedly) the Labour Party was lucky to lose the election in 1992, given what happened to the Tory victors almost immediately afterwards; and I wonder whether the re-election of the Labour Party for a fourth term in power might not necessarily turn out to be altogether a good thing for it over the longer term.

(Alright, maybe I am entirely fatalistic.)

[See also my old colleague Mike Smithson.]

[Oh, and Ed Balls is an honourable man. (So are they all, all honourable men.)]

16 thoughts on “Gordon Brown should probably resign, shouldn’t he?”

  1. The second point is a good one – I’m still trying to figure out how Brown didn’t seem to realise that rather than remaining behind the scenes with the ability to blame other people for his problems as he could while Chancellor he would now be the figurehead of the party (and kind of ridiculous that he didn’t seem to realise that by knifing Blair’s cabal in the back he was going to cause resentment such that non-Brownists in the party would much rather see his cabal and the ‘New’ Labour party as a whole go under than help him out).

    It would probably have been much better if Labour had lost that third term while Blair was in charge – Blair would have (rightfully) gotten a kicking while now he has gotten away Scot-free (pun intended!)

    Brown might then have gotten a chance to actually mount a legitimate run at leader in the future by saying that he was actually the power behind the throne and it was Blair’s fault they lost – he would have been unlikely to win even then when his monetary fiddles went relatively unnoticed but (and I suppose this is the one area in which the situation is good) now Brown has been exposed in the area in which he trumpeted his competence, partly through being in the wrong place at the wrong time and partly because of decisions he made previously coming home to roost.

    This is all speculative now but really they stuck around too long so that a lot of these things that could have been blamed on the other party (such as the 10p tax rate, which Cameron is capitalising on with no commitment to reinstate it) are coming back to gaunt them while they are still in power and with no ability to blame the last lot (not even Blair’s lot!) for causing it!

    I think this is an interesting development of the idea of political parties ‘laying traps’ for each other in the future just in case they are no longer in power when the traps get sprung (if they are they can spin it to suit their needs) – think the Millennium Dome being used by the Conservatives to say that Labour messed their great plans up and caused a fiasco. (I think they are underestimating the way that their manipulations in all aspects of policies are transparent to all but the stupidest person in the country though, which is what I think causes all the anger at the way politicians are treating the electorate with contempt, secure in the knowledge that they will suffer no serious consequences in being deceitful).

    I get the impression Labour is doing the same thing with the London Olympics (especially considering the, at best, lack of competent costing out of the project and at worst outright lying that went on about the cost of it) – Brown had better pray at least he and Labour as a whole are out of power when that international, rather than national this time, bomb goes off in 2012! Then they can blame it on the Conservatives and regain some credibility with their voters!

    Cynical? Me?(!)

  2. I never thought Brown deserved to be Prime Minister. Or even leader of the Labour Party. I always thought that choice resided with the Labour Party. (I could understand if Labour in power had tried to pass an act making this country more like the US in electing a presidential ticket, with the VP stepping up in the case of assassination (Kennedy/Johnson) or impeachment (Nixon/Ford). But they didn’t.)

    So I agree with you over “the leadership contest the Labour Party was denied last year.” And I don’t understand how the party let that get away. (I mean, I know certain facts; but I’m still surprised.)

    Oh, and Blair is Australian really. :-p

  3. Oh, could you explain “The other is that a lot of sensible people think that (with the wisdom of hindsight, admittedly) the Labour Party was lucky to lose the election in 1992, given what happened to the Tory victors almost immediately afterwards…” I ask because I thought the trap was set (so to speak) when Lord McAlpine held a post-election party at which the loudest cheer of the night was for the defeat of Michael Portillo. Not to defend MP, but I thought the self-destruction of the Parliamentary Tory Party was set then. It became all about in-fighting and recrimination. I agree it wasn’t a great period – but I am less sure why it would not have been to Labour’s advantage to have won in 1992.

  4. I guess it wouldn’t have been to ‘New’ Labour’s advantage if Labour had won in 1992?

    I also get the impression that with this move to centre-right policies by both major parties that alternating between them every five to ten years won’t have any particular effect – there might be specific policies that each party vetos once they get into power but you’ll notice that they won’t retrospectively go back and change policies already pushed through. So there might be some hope for say the Conservatives to dump the ID card scheme that has been proposed by Labour but I wouldn’t expect them to retroactively go back and throw it out if it had already been brought in. I get the worrying feeling that if the two major parties figure out how to cooperate with each other (because their policies are not so different) then you might end up with a system where one party in power does the dirty work for another and vice versa. (Though this is of course all speculation and probably affords politicians a bit more cunning and foresight than they would ever manage!)

    I just get the feeling that the one party state problem isn’t going to be changed by alternating between two similar parties – you just move to the ‘two party, one policy’ state.

  5. Dave — Are you confusing two events? When Chris Patten lost his seat in 1992, there were supposed to be prominent Tories at a party (possibly McAlpine’s) who cried “Tory gain! Tory gain!”. (Michael Portillo’s defeat came in 1997.)

    The 1992 thesis goes something like this: that a Labour Government elected in 1992 would either have had to devalue the pound almost immediately or would have had whatever economic policy they set out on derailed by something like the same sterling crisis that blew Lamont out of the water in the Autumn. Either outcome would have ended any honeymoon the government enjoyed with voters or press. Had the Tories lost in 1992, Michael Heseltine would have become party leader, and he could have beaten Labour in a 1996 or 1997 election, and we’d have a pro-Europe Tory administration for the better part of the last decade.

    Colinr: Of course. What kind of politics you get depends on where the centre of political gravity lies. But one of the things we’ve learned from this long spell of Labour government is that having the left party in power for a long time doesn’t really do that much to push politics leftwards across the board.

  6. I’ve been reading Alistair Campbell’s diaries recently. The most striking revelation therein is that Blair supports policies not on the basis that they are right, but that they are ‘serious’. So taxing school fees is not serious, but abolishing Clause IV is very serious, and so is invading Iraq.

    Throughout, one is given the impression that a handful of very serious individuals (Campbell, Mandelson, Blair, Brown and a small coterie of advisers, including D Miliband and P McFadden) are engaged in the very serious task of making an unserious party serious. Occasionally, Blair talks about giving up on the Labour Party on the basis that it will never be serious, and that Campbell and Mandelson (and Brown, though his contributions have been quite heavily edited) are the only serious people he can trust.

    I suppose the Brown coronation is of a piece with this. Leadership elections in which ordinary party members are given a say are not serious. An ‘orderly transition’ from one member of the coterie to another is very serious, being more reminiscent of the ’emergence’ of leaders in the old Conservative party, a very serious organisation.

  7. Dave & Simon: Had there been a leadership election last year, Brown would have won it, and overwhelmingly. He was very popular on the front and back benches, and among the party’s membership in the country. It’s a shame that there wasn’t a contest, but one of the big reasons that there wasn’t a contest is that nobody apart from fringe figures on the left of the party like McDonnell or Meacher were prepared to stand against him. Sure, a chunk of Brown’s support came from people who had been intimidated into signing his nomination papers, etc. But only a chunk. Brown didn’t want that contest, which is one reason why it didn’t happen, and that reflects badly on him. But there’s no doubt at all that, if it had taken place, he would have won it.

    “Serious” in this Blairist lexicon just means right-wing, doesn’t it?

  8. I always thought that choice resided with the Labour Party.

    The Labour Party for quite a long time now has done precisely what it is told.

  9. The 1992 thesis goes something like this: that a Labour Government elected in 1992 would either have had to devalue the pound almost immediately or would have had whatever economic policy they set out on derailed by something like the same sterling crisis that blew Lamont out of the water in the Autumn. Either outcome would have ended any honeymoon the government enjoyed with voters or press. Had the Tories lost in 1992, Michael Heseltine would have become party leader, and he could have beaten Labour in a 1996 or 1997 election, and we’d have a pro-Europe Tory administration for the better part of the last decade.

    This seems pretty unarguable to me – and it’s also worth emphasising that Black Wednesday (or whichever day of the week it occurred on; there’s not much doubt that it would have occurred) would have done far, far more damage to Labour than it did to the Tories.

    Which may, given the damage that it did to the Tories, seem like hyperbole – but consider this: throughout the 1980s and early 1990s we were bombarded with Tory propaganda about how Labour weren’t fit to govern because they lacked economic competence. Labour gets in in 1992, and six months later they get clobbered by Black Wednesday. The Tories crow “See? We told you so!”, Labour loses the subsequent election by a landslide, and remains unelectable for (at least) another generation.

    That part of the thesis seems all too plausible, and the one about Michael Heseltine isn’t that far-fetched either. But it seems absolutely certain that had Labour won in 1992, they’d have lost the subsequent administration, and the Blair administration would probably never have happened.

  10. “…having the left party in power for a long time doesn’t really do that much to push politics leftwards across the board”.

    It may be that I am displaying political niavety here – and I don’t mean that sarcastically; I may be, since I haven’t really lived through a period of Conservative political effectiveness as an adult before the last year or so – but that line seems to be far too exculpatory towards the left(er) party in question. They had the political capital to spend – a broken Tory party, an economic boom, shiny new leaders etc… – and they chose not to.

  11. Chris, I was confusing two events. I meant Patten of course. Portillo’s defeat sprang to mind for some reason. My bad.

  12. Oh, and I’ve never doubted that Brown would win an election. That’s not the problem. The problem is that without one he doesn’t have a proper mandate. I agree completely that not wanting an election reflects badly on him. My belief in him had been ebbing away (I thought that if he wanted to be PM, for instance, he should have taken at the least the Foreign Office and the Home Office – and learned a lot more – while he waited; and he did seem to lie down and take a lot of flak, like the “psychologically flawed” thing), but it pretty much collapsed when he didn’t.

    Rob, you say “they chose not to”. True, but I haven’t counted Blair as a member of the Labour Party for a long long time. I really do think almost anyone else would have done more. Not a lot more, though.

  13. these incredibly long runs at Government, which just leave everybody pissed off

    I was thinking, a bit back, about the Scritt Politti song “The ‘Sweetest Girl'”. There’s a line in there about when the government falls – and it struck me that the last time a government fell or even changed hands was eleven years ago, and the time before that was 29 years ago. This time next year, if Labour make it that far, we’ll be able to look back on 30 years with precisely one change of government (I don’t count Thatcher/Major or Blair/Brown). In the 29 years up to 1981, the government changed hands six times – and of course there had been a seventh the year before.

    Something seems to have happened to British politics in the early 80s, something weird and damaging. (Quite possibly something called the SDP, now I come to think of it.)

  14. It’s yer decline of political power blocs outside the party heirarchy, innit? The collapse of the union power bloc in Labour, and the (literal) death of the Local Conservative Association means that there’s not the career paths for an aspiring politico – the prospect of losing one’s career tends to put a crimper on the independence and rebelliousness that’s cuased most government collapses in the past.

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