Gordon Brown, Ha Ha Ha

The Don is quite funny over here, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Brown’s premiership is politically dead in the water, and we’re just waiting to see how the endgame plays out.

Up to now, people have been comparing him with the hapless John Major (which is what made this intervention quite so funny), but the real tragedy / comedy [delete according to taste] of his predicament is that the relevant analogy is increasingly becoming that of Iain Duncan Smith in October 2003, and that’s a terrible, terrible fate for anyone to suffer.

(Still, given that Brown himself can bring this all to an end at any moment, and to virtually everybody’s relief, perhaps our sympathies should be somewhat limited.)

16 thoughts on “Gordon Brown, Ha Ha Ha”

  1. I honestly found it a tiresome piece.

    Labour are going to lose, and deserve to lose, and among the many reasons they’re going to lose is that they cannot countenance criticisms and alternatives except those that come from their right.

    They’ve pretty much insulted and alienated a large proportion of their natural support while simultaneously demanding loyalty from those people, and it just doesn’t work any more. You can get away with Do You Want Jones To Come Back? for only so long, but not indefinitely, and not when you look and sound like Jones and not when Jones is about to come back anyway.

    So when all you get, in the current crisis, is another round of “everybody must shut up and be loyal to Gordon and all the MPs should campaign in their constituencies” it just doesn’t have any impact on anybody. It’s not even complacent, it’s just unreal.

  2. they cannot countenance criticisms and alternatives except those that come from their right

    New Labour’s fascination with the political space immediately to its right has been consistently annoying. On the rare occasions over the years that I’ve chatted to New Labour politicians about the newspapers they read, etc., I’ve been struck by how much they seem to like and respect the opinions of the commentators on The Times, who seem to me to be just about the last people you’d want to hear opinions from (Hames! Gove! Sieghart! Riddell! Aaronovitch!), while always denigrating the work of writers on tehgraun and the Independent, who in general are far more sympathetic to the idea of a left-of-centre government.

  3. Sieghart is apparently writing a abook about the state of Britain, which leads one to wonder how much exactly she knows about that small section of Britain that isn’t affluent and doesn’t live in affluent parts of London. I wonder if she’ll find that too little is done to encourage and support the academic elite?

    I think my point of view is that I really don’t want to hear any more exhortations about how I need to loyally support Labour (while simultaneously being told that it has to do all sorts of things I profundly disagree with). I’m tired of hearing it. What I want is for Labour to engage with me (something it’s not likely to do while it’s the hands of a shower of ambitious cynics) and provide me with reasons for supporting its programme, which process does not involve saying “you just don’t realise how good we’ve been to you”. I’m quite old enough to understand that it might be a good idea for the Tories to be defeated, thanks, I don’t need a lecture on the subject.

    In my instance it’s pretty academic since I live abroad and I won’t be obtaining a postal vote just so I can vote for Tessa Jowell (if that vote’s required, Labour are doomed anyway) but the principle’s the same. Don’t tell me to support you. Be such a government as to make me come to the conclusion that I would like to.

    But how likely is that?

  4. That’s an excellent point re: the Times.

    Justin – an exhortation just to shut up and be loyal wasn’t what I was getting at, it was more that the most popular suggestions about what Labour should do differently all have the definite potential to make things worse rather than better. Obvious to you and I, possibly, but not a point of view which seems to be generally shared.

    On your wider point, I agree with you. I think you would like the Oxford Labour Party, which has a campaigning strategy based on lots of dialogue with people treating them like adults whose opinions are worth listening to rather than idiots, pursues more left-wing policies locally and gives people reasons to support them based on what they will do in the future, rather than recitations of past achievements.

    In consequence, Labour in Oxford has been gaining support over the past four years at a time when Labour nationally has been doing the opposite. But it is going to be a bit of a slog and take more time to get the culture change where what Labour does in Oxford is what they do all over the country, and in the meantime it would be nice if the leadership didn’t actively make things worse than they already are.

  5. But the trouble with recommending the Oxford strategy more generally is that Labour in Oxford has advantages that aren’t easily replicable elsewhere. Thanks to the presence of the University, for example, we get a steady stream of very talented younger activists / councillors playing a key role in the life of the local party, in a way that contrasts sharply with local Labour politics in many other parts of the country, where small, dwindling groups of ageing not-especially-activists are often the norm.

  6. In consequence, Labour in Oxford has been gaining support over the past four years

    Well, it’ll have to, given how close Smith came to losing last time. But I’m not sure I agree with you entirely. The problem is that while Labour people will behave like that in private conversation, the moment it goes public and a figure either inside or outside the Labour Party is severely critical of the leadership, there’s this rush to put them in their place.

    On making things worse rather than better – when you’re three goals down with quarter of an hour to go you normally need to change your strategy drastically even if it means you end up losing by five or six, no?

    I’ve said on a few occasions that if I had held the same views twenty years or so ago that I hold now, I’d probably have joined the Labour Party. I wouldn’t now though. Why join a party whose leaders are mostly spivs who despise the party’s own membership and traditions?

    Talking of spivs, of the three candidates I guess I’d prefer Miliband to the other two. I suspect this is largely because he’s not had nearly so much time to piss me off as Straw and Harman have.

  7. “The problem is that while Labour people will behave like that in private conversation, the moment it goes public and a figure either inside or outside the Labour Party is severely critical of the leadership, there’s this rush to put them in their place.”

    Don’t agree with that – there are always Labour people willing to criticise the leadership publicly on any issue you care to mention. Some of these criticisms are better founded then others, of course. I don’t find the current one doing the rounds about ‘change the leader and keep roughly the same policies’ to be especially compelling, whereas I support any and all leftie criticisms of, say, Purnell’s welfare reform policies.

    “On making things worse rather than better – when you’re three goals down with quarter of an hour to go you normally need to change your strategy drastically even if it means you end up losing by five or six, no?”

    Not really, no.

    If the analogue of ‘losing by three goals’ is having 200 MPs after the next election, and the analogue of ‘losing by five or six’ is having fewer than 100, for example, then we should be very cautious about changing our strategy.

  8. I thought the comments on Don’s post were interesting. If they’re at all representative of what remains of Labour’s activist base, then Labour’s more deluded than I had previously thought. Gordon Brown is so clearly a lame duck prime-minister – that much was clear when he gave the same bloody speech so shortly after losing Glasgow. Even if the Tories fuck up, its looking increasingly likely that Labour will lose big in Scotland which would be enough to finish them I suspect.

    That said, I think Don’s right. I mean we all thought that Brown would be better than Blair, whereas now I’m thinking that if Blair was in charge things might not be quite so bad electorally…

  9. One difference between Blair and Brown is that Blair knew how to pick up votes from the Conservatives when he moved to the right, and that’s something Brown would love to be able to do (hence the repeated moves to the right) but is incapbable of doing (hence the plummeting polling figures).

    But the idea that Blair could have stayed is just an otherworldly Decent fantasy, isn’t it? Blair pre-announced his resignation before the 2005 election as a way of extending his hold on power, not of shortening it. And the reason Brown was so popular this time last year was so many people were relieved to see the back of Blair.

    You’re quite right about Brown as lame duck, and one of the comic aspects of the present discussion is that so few people in the Labour Party are wiling to say what’s so obviously true to everybody else. It’s true that recognising that Brown is politically dead doesn’t begin to answer the question of what should be done, and it might just… just be the case that the Labour Party’s political predicament is so bad that continuing to be fettered to a corpse in No.10 is the least bad option available. But I’d be surprised if it were.

  10. If they’re at all representative of what remains of Labour’s activist base, then Labour’s more deluded than I had previously thought.

    Well, I think those who are still in the party are likely to be, pretty much by definition, the most loyal, so perhaps it’s not so much “deluded” as “those most willing to take the position that the leader must be stood by in all circumstances”.

  11. “I think those who are still in the party are likely to be, pretty much by definition, the most loyal, so perhaps it’s not so much “deluded” as “those most willing to take the position that the leader must be stood by in all circumstances”.”

    There is also Hopi Sen’s argument, which runs as follows:

    Whichever faction is seen to have finished off Gordon Brown will get a backlash against it from the membership, which don’t like that sort of thing.

    So he’s worried that if the Blairites are seen to have been the ringleaders, then all they will do is hand the election to someone from the ‘loyalist left’. If you are a Blairite, it is worse to have a leftie leading the Party than to have Gordon Brown.

    http://hopisen.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/its-a-tarp/

  12. Oh I seriously doubt that Blair could have hung on, and he certainly wouldn’t have won the election. Its just now with the benefit of hindsight I wonder whether he would have lost quite as badly as Brown probably will.

    Having never really liked Brown that much, as it seemed pretty obvious that he was responsible for many of the worst aspects of Labour policy, while his reputation for economic competence was as deserved as Greenspun’s was, nonetheless I thought he had to be more effective electorally than Blair. Now I’m not so sure; Blair had likability, Brown really doesn’t. It seems pretty unlikely that a successor to Brown could be worse, but… I mean look at the Tories after Major resigned. Or for that matter look at the main contendors. David Milliband. Really?

  13. Is it worth (re)joining the Labour party if they lose? I live in Hove, home of people like Bloggers4Labour, PooterGeek, etc – so I’m pretty reluctant. But it might be one of the best chances in a generation to influence the Labour party.

  14. I do think by the way that Don is right to say that Oxford Labour Party does prety well by the standards of CLPs these days (if they’re still called that). Chris gives some reasons why it may not be in a typical situation: I’d add that it helps that it’s under pressure from other sources, notably but not only the Greens. On a small scale this replicates something which is true of its Continental equivalents but not of New Labour itself, or of the US Democrats – somewhere else for its natural supporters to go, which serves to keep it honest and as a check against headline-chasing and cynicism. Among the reasons why, says, PSOE in Spain is better than NL is that people can always go to IU if they’re too unhappy. In Britain, nationally at least, it’s have what you’re given and like it.

  15. Donpaskini: I liked your recent response to Hopi on the how to fight and win thread.

    Cian: I never thought Brown would be as electorally effective as Blair, but I did think that he’d be more appealing to the kind of people a Labour Government ought to be appealing to, i.e., to non-Tories. And I was wrong about that.

    ejh: I agree. One of the things I like very much about political life in Oxford is the five-party politics we’ve got in the city, with a variety of different electoral battlegrounds on which the parties line up in a variety of permutations and combinations.

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