Sunday, 14 September 2008

New Labour New Leader?

The die is cast. It doesn't really matter what David Miliband says on the Politics Show, Gordon Brown will not win the next election as Labour Prime Minister.

Why not? Either he won't be Prime Minister, and it will be somebody else's job to win or lose; or he will be a bloodied, beaten Prime Minister, waiting for an election defeat so he can shuffle off stage. I've never been a Gordon Brown supporter, but his career doesn't deserve that sort of conclusion. Indeed, his career shouldn't be coming to an end at all. We need to find a Labour way out of this, and I think - earlier in the summer - John McDonnell spelt out what that way should be.

What can't happen now is for everything to go back to normal, the leadership issue to quietly go back in its box, Gordon to have an effective relaunch, and maybe - with a following political and economic wind - win in 2010. We might get that following political and economic wind, but the leadership issue won't go back in its box, therefore things won't go back to normal, therefore the relaunch will be anything but effective.

Without something happening very quickly, there will just be a steady drip-drip of opposition to Brown all Autumn. It has already been enough to ensure any 'relaunch' at conference will be drowned out by shouting about nomination forms, legal challenges, resigning junior figures.

So something has to happen. What can that something be?

John's compromise proposal early in the summer seems like the best bet, and it has to be said that Siobhan McDonagh used very similar language in her television interviews on the subject, despite coming at this from a completely different direction:

Let's have an election. An open election: anyone who thinks they could be the next leader should stand and put forward a manifesto. We have an honest, open debate, and our preferential electoral system comes up with the leader. I was going to say new leader, but of course, it might be that Brown is re-elected. I can't pretend that I don't think it would be better if somebody else won. Indeed I will be enthusiastically supporting John McDonnell. But this is not an attack on Brown, or a challenge to Brown - he should see this as an opportunity and play a full part in the process. There is no reason why he shouldn't remain a key player under a new leader.

This won't be easy. It will raise any number of questions: is it a distraction from running the country? Will we have to go straight to a general election? Will it hand ammunition to the Tories?

But answers present themselves: no, it won't be a distraction from running the country. A campaign can be short (and we managed to carry on running the country a year ago) - and the policy debate will be essential for ensuring we run the country BETTER. No, there won't have to be an immediate general election; but if a new leader gets a bit of a bounce we may not have to leave it to the last possible moment. And - it might hand ammunition to the Tories, but they don't really need any more. Not doing this - and having these stories appearing slowly day-by-day - will provide them with much more deadly ammo.

In conclusion - while the left should have no truck with some 'uber-Blairite coup' - it probably is the case that we've reached last chance saloon. As such, I think we should back the McDonnell plan - a plan that, in words at least, seems to have been embraced by McDonagh - and call for an open, comradely, friendly leadership election with a wide range of candidates from across the party's political spectrum.

Let's see it done.


Miller 2.0 said...

You say that you should have no truck with the 'uber-blairite coup', but this, as the hard left have inadequate support, is what the objective situation remains: a definitively uber-blairite coup.

But John McD has added his name to the letter.

Duncan Hall said...

He's added his name to which letter?

His photograph appears on the BBC 'wheel of rebels', but just because the Sunday Times reports him calling for a leadership election (hardly a surprise as he's been calling for one for over two years now!)

Owen said...

Tom - what letter are you referring to? There isn't any letter being circulated.

John McDonnell issued a press release condemning the Blairite plotters (which you can see at as fighting over personalities rather than policies. He has no truc with these plotters.

He has always said he'd be up for a leadership debate as long as it was about policies rather than personalities.

Duncan Hall said...

John has clarified this matter here:

Witnessing the faction infighting between Brownites and Blairites has been like watching the crew having a punch up on the deck of the Titanic. Just to set the record straight I am not part of this plot and have not asked for leadership nomination papers.

I am still up for a leadership election if there is one but it must be based upon a thoroughgoing, open debate about policies and not personalities. The two New Labour factions currently slugging it out have barely a policy difference between them and have supported every New Labour policy over the last 11 years, which has led us to the brink of a Tory government.

In July I suggested a compromise route through the current impasse to hold the party together. I proposed having a structured and inclusive policy debate about the future for Labour. If this demonstrates support for the need for radical change, as I suspect, it is only in this context that the party should convene an election for a new leader


John McDonnell MP