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Posts tagged with: Gordon Brown

Decontaminating the Labour brand

Red glove - CC / Flickr

Red glove - CC / Flickr

I was rather struck my Mark Thompson’s critique of the Labour Party’s current predicament – “I think Labour activists are in danger of underestimating just how damaged their own party brand already is” were the words he used.

I really do not see it in those terms, and here are some thoughts why.

For a start the main characters that have tainted Labour for the last decade are now off the scene – Blair and Brown. Brown’s own ratings were worse than Labour’s and with the prospect of a new leader on the horizon how bad are things for Labour as whole? Not too bad as far as I can tell.

The fact that some of the other hard-to-like ministers from previous administrations – Hewitt, Hoon, Clarke, Prescott – are off the scene also helps.

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Sorry Cameron, but Britain is not “in a complete and utter mess”

Screenshot from conservatives.com

Screenshot from conservatives.com

OK, the UK has some difficulties due to the financial crisis and is struggling out of recession, but does Cameron really reckon that people think the place is “in a complete and utter mess” as he has termed it in today’s speech that’s supposed to be part of his fightback as the Tories are suffering in the polls? Even if that were to be believed does he reckon anyone things things are worse with Labour than they would have been with the Tories in control? I’m really astounded – is that the best the Tories can do – claiming Britain is a mess and appealing to the hearts of people by claiming it’s a patriotic duty to oust Brown?

It strikes me that the overall essence of Cameron’s speech in Brighton today, delivered it seems with an edge of nerves, was to try to kick Labour still further when they are down. Has no-one explained to him that’s not a very handy strategy just now? Yes, regrettably, we know that Brown is none too popular, but keeping on ranting about bad things are is no good at all. How, Cameron, is a Tory future for the country going to be any better? That, significantly, has not even remotely been achieved today.

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I think I have some sort of political depression

I have a problem. A serious problem. I’m beset by some kind of political depression.

It’s not because I fear the result of the UK’s forthcoming general election – even if Labour wins there will be scant optimism. The battle is about who cuts what, when – aside from occasional forays into whether Brown is a bully or whether Cameron u-turns on marriage tax. Brown is battered, Cameron is weak, and Clegg is non-existent. Will even 50% of the population be enthused enough to vote? A heavily indebted, inward looking, security paranoid, deeply unequal population needs some cause for optimism, but where is that to be found?


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We have been at our best when at our boldest – so AV?

Gordon Brown - CC / Flickr

Gordon Brown - CC / Flickr

Two striking phrases appear in Tony Blair’s 2002 Labour Conference speech – the famous “We have been at our best when at our boldest” and a lesser known line “Thanks to the brilliance and vision of Gordon Brown we have succeeded beyond any Labour government“.

Fast forward a little over 7 years, and more than 12 years after Labour’s historic 1997 election victory, and the same Gordon Brown has penned a column in The Guardian where he makes his case for holding a referendum after the election on voting system reform for Westminster. The problem is that the option on the table is the Alternative Vote system – keeping the one MP / one constituency system, but allowing voters to rank candidates. The Electoral Reform Society gives the idea a lukewarm welcome and I’m inclined to agree, but bold this definitely is not – it is at best a compromise. Mark Reckons has more on the issue from a Lib Dem perspective.

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Brown: back him or sack him, but definitely do not dither

OK, here we go again. I’ve lost track of the number of times that there have been weak and weedy attempts to ditch Gordon Brown over the last 9 months or so. This time things are perhaps a little bit different – the Hoon-Hewitt plot is open and on the record, and they are at least both former cabinet ministers, although they claim this is no coup attempt against Gordon Brown – it could equally strengthen Brown were he to win such a poll of MPs. This then prompted a typical sort of tribalist response, typified by this tweet from Labour candidate for Manchester Withington Lucy Powell:

Look Lucy and anyone else trying to defend that line in public – it’s a load of crap. Labour is not united behind Brown. It’s not united behind anyone as an alternative to Brown either. People might not be behind Hoon and Hewitt (and especially not their timing), but there’s scarcely any Labour person I know that doesn’t have some sort of misgivings about Brown’s leadership. There’s no way to gloss over that. To do so is futile. But, conversely, what I write does not necessarily mean that Brown is not the best person to lead Labour into the election.

That leads me to the conclusion that I am not especially bothered about whether Brown is now ousted or not, and I say this as someone who joined Labour at the age of 16 and still carries the card. If Brown is ousted then a new leader will have too little time to change things much. If Brown stays then Labour will potter ahead towards an election with a wounded leader. Either option is rather sub-optimal.

All I want is some sort of quick decision, some clear line about what is going to happen. No rumbling news stories for days on end. This must be the very last effort to deal with the leadership question before the election. And after that – with a bit of luck – some sort of pragmatic, policy based approach that activists can use in the run up to the election can be developed. Remember the Tories will outspend Labour 3-1.

MPs in the corridors of Westminster: please think of the country, please avoid the crass soundbites about unity, and – above all – do not dither, whatever way the decision goes.


In the postmodern putsch you have to move the victim somewhere – so where for Brown?

Gordon Brown at the World Economic Forum - CC / Flickr

Gordon Brown at the World Economic Forum - CC / Flickr

If you don’t like a politician what do you do with him or her? International organisations are always an option. Could this work for Labour and Gordon Brown?

Let me explain.

Brussels is full of national politicians who no longer had a role in their national capitals; Neil Kinnock was a Commissioner when he reached the end of the road in the UK. Barroso is kept in Brussels precisely because the Portuguese government doesn’t want him back home.

The same applies in other international bodies – Sarko favoured socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn for the IMF to remove a potent enemy from the French political system. Pascal Lamy is equally out of harm’s way in the WTO.

Yet all of the focus in the UK about the future of Gordon Brown has been not about the Prime Minister himself and the debate has almost uniquely focused on whether there is enough discontent in the cabinet to depose him. I think it’s high time to think of options for a smooth transition out of power for Brown – essentially to find some other role he could be ushered into, something that would make the ending of his time as PM look less like a disaster.

Brown is not liked in Brussels, and he doesn’t really like Brussels either. So an EU role is not a way out. But apparently Brown’s moral compass is locked on international issues and development, so could a role be found for him in the IMF, World Bank or maybe even the WTO or the UN? Lamy, Strauss-Kahn and Zoellick are not up for reselection any time soon as far as I can tell, and it’s not clear whether there could be any sort of UN role. But some creative thinking needs to be done in this regard. If Brown were not condemned to the political wilderness (and even managed a role of greater repute than the king’s in the middle east) then surely the job of Mandelson, Johnson and Miliband would become so much easier?

(Thanks to Andy Carling for the inspiration for this post, over a beer in Brussels this evening)


Gordon Brown and AV – no, not now Gordon

Gordon Brown - CC / Flickr

Gordon Brown - CC / Flickr

At the ‘we don’t want to oust Gordon’ PLP meeting earlier this week many words were spoken about how the Prime Minister had learnt the lessons of the last week, how he was now going to be better at listening. So what news slips out today? That the Prime Minister is actively contemplating proposing the Alternative Vote system as an alternative to First Past the Post as the system to elect Westminster MPs. Why, oh, why has this been announced now? We’re barely 48 hours after a terrible election defeat for Labour – an announcement like this looks terrible tactically as Mike Smithson points out. Which members of the PLP were aware of, or indeed back, Gordon’s plan?

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Brown’s reshuffle: Miliband should refuse to move, and Balls should be refused

David Miliband - photo from Facebook page

David Miliband - photo from Facebook page

The British newspapers have been full of analysis of the resignations of Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears, but the big news is still to come with Brown’s cabinet reshuffle, pencilled in for either tomorrow or Monday next week. For me there are 2 crucial decisions that will determine how all of this works out.

First of all it has been widely rumoured that Peter Mandelson might be moved to the Foreign Office, replacing David Miliband. Aside from the oddity of having one of the major cabinet positions occupied by a member of the House of Lords, I think there is no justification whatsoever for Miliband to be moved. He’s been like a breath of fresh air at the FCO in comparison to Margaret Beckett his predecessor. So Miliband should refuse to move, and if forced out, should resign from Cabinet – and if that happens Brown is surely finished. Miliband’s determination to get to the very top was questioned last summer – he cannot be seen to blink again. If Miliband himself does accept a demotion that’s it for him for the forseeable future – others will have to lead Labour in the post-Brown era instead.

Secondly it has been suggested that Alistair Darling will be moved from The Treasury and replaced by Ed Balls. I’ve never been immensely impressed by Darling and, on expenses matters alone, a case could be made to replace him. But the replacement – if any – should absolutely not be Ed Balls. Brown’s bullying and abrasive henchman was at the Treasury with Brown during the boom times, and has probably already been over-promoted. Putting someone as unquestionably loyal as Balls as Chancellor is cronyism and will further weaken Brown and the Cabinet. If Balls is installed at the Treasury I wonder how many more backbenchers will sign letters opposing Brown?

Let’s see what happens, it’s sure to be an interesting few days.


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