Tag Archive: Gordon Brown
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This post first appeared on Labour List
Recently there has been a lot of focus on individual players within the Labour Party. This is inevitable, and – as Mark’s recent piece observed – leadership matters. I understand this – trust me, I wouldn’t have devoted my summer to Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign if I didn’t – but it’s not the only thing that matters, especially in a party such as ours. It was Ed’s recognition of the value of our collective nature that – in part – led to my support for his candidacy.
The ranking of cabinet ministers by their profile in prliament and the press has some superficial attraction. We can see who is best placed at taking our messages out to the public, and who has the ferocity and forensic skills to represent us in high profile parliamentary briefs. Both of these are important in attracting future voters and scrutinising the current government. But there is something missing in this assessment, and that is the job some are doing in making the party itself a vehicle capable of winning and governing again.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of looking for a messiah to lead us from the darkness, believing that our path back is all about one person – the right person – and to ignore all the other things we need to do. The idea that we should put all faith and decision making into the hands of a charismatic leader has served us well in the past, and Tony Blair’s charisma and strength to carry out much needed reform worked well for Labour for many years. But then it stopped working.
It stopped working in part because Blair got tired and picked his battles less carefully, allowing the initially brilliant strategy of New Labour to become an inflexible dogma that in the end destroyed it. But it also stopped working because it can only ever be an illusion that policy and governance can be achieved through the work of one person.
It’s a dangerous illusion too. Because the more we believe it, the more we seek a person, the “heir to Blair”. Brown’s inability to be that person was in part his failure to understand that he didn’t have what it took, but more a failure to understand that if you aren’t, you need to offer something else, not just attempt to shape yourself into a leader. If we spend all our time seeking personalities, we will continue to play in the shallows of personality politics giving less attention to the truly difficult bit, the building of a party than can work together, using all its resources, to create policy that is both ideologically and politically satisfactory, and to build a narrative together that adapts to our separate communities. Some will read this article as an attack on Ed Miliband. It isn’t, not one bit. It is actually applauding the fact that I believe Ed sees the importance of this strategy.
This is why seeing Peter Hain ranked so low under the measures used concerns me. Because I’ve heard from Peter several times as he works with me and the party to have a conversation (one people can actually believe in) about how to change our party. I know that Peter is doing the work that won’t get him in the pressn and won’t get him parliamentary coverage but that is an absolutely essential part of making us able to win and fit to govern. He’s rebuilding the Labour Party from one that only functioned through the control of a small, exceptional group managing the message, policy, direction and process, to one where every member feels they have a real connection to the party and the ability (if they want it) to contribute to our policy making. It isn’t sexy, and it won’t generate press coverage, but it is the start of rebuilding a movement that has long term appeal in our more democratic age.
We don’t yet know what the outcome of the Partnership into Power review will be. I hear the same cynical voices as everyone else does about what has gone so wrong before with the NPF and the process until now. But if we are going to make Labour policy and politics about more than the personalities and something all members can be proud of being engaged in, we need to put aside that cynicism, and feed into an important process. If we take ownership of it, it will not only have the strength of mass acceptance, but it will also be far harder to dismantle or ignore. So let me return to conference next year and tell the Labour Party staff member who drunkenly told me that “the NPF doesn’t matter” that it (and the wider policy making process) does now.
Submissions to the policy review and in response to the review of Partnership into Power can also be made by email to PiP@new,labour.org.uk or in writing c/o Policy and Research Department, The Labour Party, 39 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0HA.
Hopefully this is the last time I will ever post about Tony Blair. I won’t be buying his book, I won’t be reading his book (I hear the prose is terrible) and I don’t take his interventions very seriously, so won’t be reacting to any of his ridiculous statements about policy or politics.
My interest is in the future of the Labour Party and the policies a future Labour government will enact. Some of this future will be based on an analysis of history, so the only reason I am responding to Blair’s book is to put my take on the history of the Blair administration. This is in addition to my pre-election analysis of what Labour needed to change to get over 1992.
We won in 1997 because we offered a radical alternative to the Tories. for all Blair’s subsequent positioning, and for all the criticism of him at the time, this was a real Labour agenda with some real Labour achievements. The Minimum Wage, Freedom of Information, the New Deal and statutory holiday pay were all radical at the time and very Labour.
We were rewarded for this radicalism in 2001 when we won a second landslide. Turnout was significantly down though – at the time felt because the election didn’t seem to be much of a contest. Perhaps this lowering of turnout should instead have been a first warning, but it wasn’t taken as such. Instead, forces within Labour decided that the reason for winning was not the radical policies we had enacted, but the triangulation and rightist presentation they had been dressed in. Slowly at first and then more rapidly as Blair became more and more disconnected from his party Labour started to ditch the radicalism, and dress up managerialism with a shiny right of centre wrapping. Blair’s regret of the Hunting Act strike me as an obvious regret over one of the last truly radical acts of that era of government.
In 2005, Blair was incredibly lucky to be faced with Michael Howard as Tory leader. Had the Tories chosen a Cameron style change – someone not from the discredited Major years, someone young and charismatic – the election could have been a lot closer. We lost millions of votes and over 100 seats. Fought as tired New Labour with full emphasis on triangualtion and modernising (Forward, Not Back – worst election slogan ever?), we only managed to limp to a three point lead over the Tories in the national polls. We didn’t win that election as New Labour, the Tories lost it again as the Same Old Tories.
To learn these lessons properly, we need to deny the braying voices on the right of our party who are frozen ever further into the New Labour dogma of eternal rightward shifting and triangulation. We won and were then rewarded when we offered a radical but electable alternative. We started to lose when we offered little but managerialism and attempts to outflank the Tories on the right.
We will continue and deserve to lose if we don’t just talk about offering something radically different, but do so too. Our leader – whoever they end up being – must understand the need the electorate will have to see a difference, a radicalism about our offer and must be able to sell that vision with passion and conviction. Brown went wrong not because he abandoned New Labour, but because in promising to abandon it and them failing to offer a definition of what his vision of a post-New Labour government meant, he failed to actually move on but ended up merely offering a blurring of the presentation.
We must now – after too long – define Labour for the 21st Centuary and make an attractive offer of that definition.
I haven’t posted since the election as I haven’t really known what to say. There’s so much sound and fury about all the negotiations, and frankly, no one knows a damn thing, I didn’t want to add my lack of knowledge into that swirling pot, and was waiting for cooler times to prevail to write what I thought about it all.
But now something has happened that does deserve comment.
Gordon Brown has announced that he will step down as leader of the Labour Party and make way for an orderly transition. His speech was dignified and statesmanlike and warmly received from all party members – those who supported him and those who felt it was time – or past time – for him to step down.
Gordon Brown has not bee a popular Prime Minister, at least not in the UK. He is far better liked and respected on the international stage, where the work he put in to rescuing us from the abyss of financial meltdown is often recognised. He’s a serious man, perhaps too serious for our times, and he over thought strategic decisions, which often only work when they come quickly and naturally. His instincts were so often right, but his lack of belief in them let him – and us down too often. However, I strongly believe history will be far kinder to Gordon than we are now, and while he has absolutely made the right decision today, he will in time come to be recognised as one of the great politicians of our age, both as Chancellor and as PM. I credit Labour’s focus on poverty reduction – here and abroad – to Gordon, and I believe that he will continue this work in some form or another for the rest of his life.
So for child tax credits, for debt relief, for transforming public services, for the Climate Change Act, for the Marine Act, for making Britain world leader in off-shore wind energy, for the Equalities Act, for Sure Start and the minimum wage and for countless other things that have made our nation so much better and so much fairer, I thank you Gordon from the bottom of my heart.
Given the circumstances, it had to be good, and my good it was good. At times it was superb.
He attacked just enough, and didn’t let Cameron off the hook on Inheritance or Corporation Tax, but where he was really excellent was on on values. He was superb on childcare (Babs I’ve been away, and will come back to you but I’m struggling at the moment with exhaustion so it’s not going to be tonight!) and the values behind the stats and has – I think – done plenty to undo the damage of yesterdays mistake.
Clegg wasn’t as good as he has been – or maybe he was as good as he had been, but hadn’t finessed his rhetorical flourishes enough to make them seem unscripted a third time.
Cameron was better than he has been, but seemed to get very cross when he was essentially exposed as a Tory.
I declare this a much needed win for Gordon. It was him at his very best.
There’s quite a lot of commentary at the moment on Twitter and the blogs bout Nick Clegg’s demands for a hung parliament. While some of the critisism is apt, I tweeted some days ago, and still feel, that at the moment, any and all criticism of Clegg – especially by anyone connected with Labour or the Tories – is simply counter-productive. It feeds his message of “same old politics” too easily, and the Tory press are blurring the lines so much already that even valid criticism seems like carping.
I also think that some of the lines don’t quite make sense. True, it’s not for Clegg to choose the Labour leader, but it may be for Labour to choose between being led by Brown or governed by Cameron. I believe even Gordon knows which is the preferable choice.
So let’s assume Clegg gets to play kingmaker – or even crown himself with a Labour cabinet. What are the conditions Labour should put on such an alliance?
In the debates, both Clegg and Cable have attacked Tax Credits and their manifesto proposes getting rid completely of the Child Trust Fund. These must be a vital line in the sand. These are essential policies to continue a fair redistribution. This is a key Labour principle, and we must fight for it.
Secondly, no anti-union laws, including increasingly draconian laws to stop people working collectively and politically. Unite and Ashcroft are not the same, and union members already jump through enough hoops donating money through their union – a signal of thier political belief in collective action. A good Labour person in the DTI and protecting this area at the Treasury will be hugely important.
Finally, agreement on a referendum on voting reform must include an AV or AV+ as well as FPtP and STV options. Each party (and individuals within the parties) must be free to campaign in the referendum as they see fit.
I think these measures would be essential to assuaging Labour concerns, but shouldn’t be too bitter a pill for the Lib Dems to swallow. If Labour are seen as giving up something as substantial as their leader, the Lib Dems will also have to show willing to be coalition players. I don’t think these measures which protect the vulnerable should be too hard to take.
While that was a rather good general debate, I wish it had done what it was supposed to and focused more on domestic policy. We have the foreign affairs and economic debates still to come. Where were the questions on housing, energy security, human rights and civil liberties and transport? When will we get them if not in the Domestic debate?
I’m going to call this one a tie between Clegg and Brown. Clegg had the easier job but performed it with gusto – I might even remember who he is next time he’s on telly (equating the unions with Billionaire businessmen will get you remembered by me). Brown defied the very low expectations on him and performed solidly, raising a few laughs and making some excellent points both on Labour promises and the differences between us and the Conservatives.
But why the hell have the Tories been talking Cameron’s chances up all week? He simply couldn’t have achieved the expectation put on him even if he had shown up! As it was he looked tired and weary, unnerved and his stories all seemed a bit fake and a little 70s in their “some of my best friends are 40 year old black men” attitude to diversity. A terribly lacklustre performance, which could have been better managed by his team if they hadn’t put such a premium on how he was going to wipe the floor with Brown on the night.
Finally the bit at the end with the handshakes looked very odd. GB naturally went straight into it and it looked fine, Clegg looked like he was going to follow suit, and Cameron grabbed him back. Clegg wants to watch otu for that – just for a moment, he really looked like Cameron’s junior.