You’re fired!

by Chris Bertram on June 5, 2009

Well someone had to use that headline first, so it might as well be me. Does anything demonstrate the desperation and vacuouseness of the Brown adminstration more than the “appointment”: of a former entrepreneur, turned property developer, turned reality-show compere as “enterprise Czar”? Actually, don’t answer that question, because lots of other things do. Despite a lifetime of voting Labour, I couldn’t bring myself to back them in the Euros (went for the Greens in the end, faute de mieux, since you ask). Maybe nothing can save Labour, but Alan “tm” Johnson might be their only chance. Brown needs to jump though.



Jacob Christensen 06.05.09 at 11:21 am

I wonder if this is the tragedy or the farce part of the history. The only comparable meltdown in an established democracy I can think of right now, is Italy in the early 1990s.

And we all know how that ended. Maybe you should just have Sir Sugar appointed PM and get it over and done with.


belle le triste 06.05.09 at 11:37 am

you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour cabinet — a Labour cabinet — hiring an (wait for it) “enterprise czar”…

who are they going to bring in as the “freedom hitler?”


dsquared 06.05.09 at 12:00 pm

Alan (ths) Johnson now!


john b 06.05.09 at 12:15 pm

I know the crossing between Dan and Belle’s comments is accidental, but I like the idea of rebadging the Home Secretary as “Freedom Hitler”.


Hidari 06.05.09 at 12:28 pm

‘reality-show compere’

What’s the problem? This could start a trend. Jeremy Kyle for Home Secretary, Davina MacColl for Meeja Relations…indeed there’s a new programme that has just started filled with bright talented people, any one of whom could end up being in the Labour Government!


P O'Neill 06.05.09 at 12:34 pm

On a separate issue, who knew that that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets to decide who’s Chancellor of the Exchequer?


Bunbury 06.05.09 at 12:39 pm

Does anyone actually think that appointing A(the minister)J leader now would win the next election for Labour, make a significant policy shift or hold the party together after an election defeat?


john b 06.05.09 at 12:59 pm



D 06.05.09 at 1:35 pm

“On a separate issue, who knew that that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets to decide who’s Chancellor of the Exchequer?”

This is hardly a break with New Labour tradition is it?


Thom Brooks 06.05.09 at 1:48 pm

I couldn’t agree more with you, Chris!


harry b 06.05.09 at 2:25 pm

I think the answer to all your questions is no. The aim is to minimize the damage. I think AJ’s appeal is that people think he has a sort of common touch that will enable him to do that. No idea whether they are right, but I don’t see another candidate who would be able to hold the party together in the aftermath of defeat anyway, so its not a big risk.


belle le triste 06.05.09 at 3:09 pm

since we’re in the rebranding game, they should rename black rod LIGHTNING ROD, and appoint “sir” “alan” “sugar” to THAT role: discussion with pals forces me to conclude he has been chosen because he is actually less respected and liked than [insert well-known frontbencher here] and hence will make g.brown seem sage, beloved and hottt, in no time at all


dsquared 06.05.09 at 3:11 pm

Boom, boom, out go the lights on Geoff Hoon, by the way.


christian h. 06.05.09 at 3:17 pm

Blairite coup attempt, it seems. As usual, the right wing would rather destroy the party than see it move an inch to the left. This is a commonplace in every single party even vaguely left-of-center.


MDHinton 06.05.09 at 3:24 pm

As a self-confessed, life-long labour voter, do you feel a bit:
a) responsible
b) gullible
c) just plain stupid
d) all of the above?


Katherine 06.05.09 at 4:03 pm

Well gosh, that’s not a weighted question at all!


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 06.05.09 at 4:34 pm

Also, Chris, have you stopped beating your wife?


richard 06.05.09 at 4:44 pm

So last time I looked nobody else was electable but labour was declining, nonetheless. Now it seems labour’s sunk to a level that people might consider voting for a bunch of suits full of bugger all, to quote Ben Elton. Is that right, or are the Tories less of a joke than they were, say, 4 years ago?


P O'Neill 06.05.09 at 5:06 pm

It turns out that Sugar is the Enterprise Champion.


alex 06.05.09 at 5:20 pm

Isn’t it time that someone pointed out that Surallan isn’t actually a particularly successful businessman? Or is managing to be not actually bankrupt after a 40-year career all it takes to be an Enterprise Champion in the Last Days of the Gord?


ejh 06.05.09 at 5:25 pm

The thing is, there’s not really a Labour Party left to put itself together again. After the 1983 debacle there was a prolonged and painful debate in the party as to how it needed to change in order to aspire to government again. I didn’t and wouldn’t agree with the people who won, but they did win and they won because they made their case and most people agreed with them. But the trouble was that one perhaps unanticipated consequence of their winning was that the process couldn’t be repeated in the future, when <i<they fouled up: partly because most of the people who’d been enthusiastic for the changed party lost their enthusiasm and left (as did nearly all their opponents) but partly because one of the conclusions the party came to is that there should be no more fighting in public.

They had good reasons for deciding that, but unfortunately now they need to fight in public, either now or when they get slaughtered at the next election, and who’s going to do that? It’s not necessarily a case of what particular policies they should have, how far to the left or right they should be, but clearly they need a prolonged and genuine debate about what the party is for and how it should work. And I don’t think they will. There may be faction fights in and around Westminster, there’ll be plenty of briefing and briefing against, but I’ll take a lot of convincing that the party isn’t so entirely timorous that it has any capability of holding so much as a public meeting.

Of course that’s not the only thing: the other is that pretty much the entire national media were behind the changes of the Eighties and Nineties, whereas there’ll be hardly a politics correspondent or a leader writer who won’t jump all over anybody calling for the party to be more democratic.


bert 06.05.09 at 5:27 pm

That’s Lord Sugar to you, P.
Lord Sugarlump, Enterprise Wonderhorse.
A respected figure, a serious announcement and on no account grounds for sniggering.

Richard, if the Tories manage twelve months in power without splitting over Europe I’m a Dutchman. A sizeable faction of the parliamentary party want withdrawal and will push for “renegotiation” as a means to achieve it. The front bench will attempt to spin themselves some symbolic victories in the usual European Council process, as befits practical men of business. In this context, if Lisbon doesn’t trigger a crisis, something else will. Smart pundits will get their Cameron=Major pieces written ahead of time.


John 06.05.09 at 5:41 pm

I’m American, and only an intermittent follower of British politics, but why would Alan Johnson (or anyone else, for that matter) want to take over now? Why take over a party on the brink of electoral defeat, for which you will very likely be blamed even if it isn’t your fault?

Why not just let Brown ride it out, hope things improve by next year, and then, if the almost inevitable loss happens anyway, pick a new leader. The Tories don’t seem to have any real ideas or vision about what to do, so far as I can gather, and as Bert notes they’re split over Europe, so it doesn’t seem all that likely their government would be particularly lasting. Johnson’s in a much better position to have a successful tenure as leader of the Labour Party if he takes power after the embarrassing defeat, doesn’t he?

And, perhaps things will have sufficiently improved by next year that Brown will be able to win. Major did it, after all.


S. Tarzan 06.05.09 at 5:42 pm

#20: “But the trouble was that one perhaps unanticipated consequence of their winning was that the process couldn’t be repeated in the future, when”

When what?


Cryptic Ned 06.05.09 at 6:05 pm

Isn’t it time that someone pointed out that Surallan isn’t actually a particularly successful businessman?

Careful with this nickname, it looks Spanish to me. Or maybe an Indonesian celebrity.


bert 06.05.09 at 6:09 pm

John@22, In the US a doomed presidential campaign might as well lose big in the electoral college. Of course there’s damage done down the ballot, but those are indirect effects and candidates can always distance themselves from their presidential ticket if they think they’re being harmed. In Britain by contrast everything depends on the size of a government’s showing in parliament (and Cameron is not yet assured of an overall majority). The difference between a 100+ majority and a hung parliament could be the difference between a couple of years or a decade in opposition. Similar calculations will affect the judgement of individual MPs. If enough are persuaded that with a new leader they stand a chance of retaining their seats while with Brown they are done for, then it makes practical sense for them to change leader, even if an overall change of government is unavoidable.

Of course, that doesn’t answer your question of why Johnson would want the job in advance of an election. But we don’t yet have clear evidence that he actually does.


alex 06.05.09 at 6:20 pm

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, UK Higher Education has just been sold down the river into the hands of the Antichrist himself… Thank feck they’ll be out of office soon…


P O'Neill 06.05.09 at 6:25 pm

The press release for the news of handing Higher Ed to Mandy is a classic. For one thing, it never explains the BERR and DIUS acronyms. Written on the assumption that the reader would be as steeped in institutional knowledge as Brown is.


MDHinton 06.05.09 at 6:39 pm

I’m genuinely interested in the idea of voter responsiblility. Do those who voted Labour feel responsible for the present situation or not? The plan to make Brown PM was well known. His record was well known. His personality was well known. A lot of people have got what they voted for and it’s a little unfair of them to be on the guy’s back now when all that’s happened has been pretty much predictable.

By the by, I wouldn’t vote Tory any more than I’d vote Labour, but looking at the mess Brown has made I don’t think you can seriously claim that the Tories are ‘a joke’ in comparison. (@17)


Bunbury 06.05.09 at 6:51 pm

You can and I do.


dsquared 06.05.09 at 6:57 pm

I’m genuinely interested in the idea of voter responsiblility.

well, you might get more discussion of this idea you’re genuinely interested in if you try asking the question in a more neutral and less studiedly assholish way then, maybe?


harry b 06.05.09 at 6:57 pm

I haven’t voted Labour for a long time (last time I voted it was Lib Dem, on the vote for the most left wing candidate with a chance of winning grounds — Labour candidate was a management consultant who came second). I think that people who voted Labour in 1997 should feel much worse about Blair than about Brown. But why should they feel responsible for Brown, when the alternative in 97 was more of a hobbled Major government, in 2001 was much the same and in 2005 was a party led by Michael Howard and still in turmoil.

We’ll see what the Tories are like in government. The leadership seems competent and not especially ideologically right-wing. But it is very hard to know, and the party they lead is not converted to their politics (less, I suspect, than Labour was converted to Blairism or even to Kinnockism whatever that was).

Why the hell aren’t the Lib Dems, who have been right about just every major thing Labour has gotten wrong, not getting any benefit from this? (despite the revelation about my voting behaviour, I am NOT a Lib Dem, not at all).


harry b 06.05.09 at 6:59 pm

further to bert (24); I think we have evidence that he doesn’t much want it, because right now its his for the taking if he does want it. The next few days will tell.


Jacob Christensen 06.05.09 at 7:29 pm

@P O’Neill: Thanks for the pointer. That press release is indeed a thing of beauty.

@harry b #30: The question could be if any other party is in fact winning. But what a mess.


MDHinton 06.05.09 at 8:06 pm

Bunbury – really, you think Howard would have made more of a mess of the job than Brown? I can’t really see how that’s possible but perhaps you have more imagination than me.

dsquared – as a regular reader, I haven’t noticed anyone behave in a more studiedly assholish way on a regular basis than your good self and so I thank you for the recognition.

The serious point is this: the original post talked of the ‘desperation and vacuouseness of the Brown adminstration’ but the poster admits voting to bring in that administartion. I guess that many of you voted the same way – does anyone feel just a little bit responsible for the mess this administration has made of running the country? generally, do people think voters should feel some responsibility for the governments they elect or not?


ejh 06.05.09 at 8:17 pm

The Lib Dems aren’t getting any benefit, Harry, probably because they don’t stand for very much except not being someone else*. Their front bench certainly lacks the real grotesques you’ll find in the major parties (or you would have till they resigned earlier this week) but it’s still a party without a philosophy and wanting it that way.

Re: Johnson – he might take it because leading Labour to a relatively small defeat might be better than not leading them and getting destroyed. Might be better for him, might be better for his party. British general elections aren’t US presidential elections.

[* of course this isn’t completely true – they stand for Europe and electoral reform and have a better attitude to civil liberties than the other main parties. But they’re also a business party and there’s always something in that mix to put one off.]


bert 06.05.09 at 8:32 pm

Despite my comments at #21, if you’re after rightwing ideology among the Cameroons then Europe is probably the best place to look. Yet even that smells phoney. The commitment to withdraw from the EPP was a leadership election move to head off an attempt by David Davies to outflank on the right. The pledge on Lisbon was designed to exploit a broken Labour manifesto commitment.
I remember John Major used regularly to send people out to reassure the tea rooms that he remained eurosceptic at heart. He found out rather too late that an irreducible core of his party was made up of unappeasable nuts. Cameron looks set to relearn the lesson, painfully.

Re the LibDems, does anyone else get the sense that Nick Clegg is sort of thick? I get the uncomfortable feeling I used to get from Neil Kinnock – that he starts a sentence with no clue as to how it will finish, and is only just clinging on until the sentence comes to an end of its own accord.


bert 06.05.09 at 8:41 pm

I don’t mean to be a snob. Clegg may well be a genius. I’m merely talking about how he comes across – namely as not the sharpest knife in the drawer.


Bunbury 06.05.09 at 8:43 pm

MDH, I’m not thinking what you’re thinking.

If you said what you thought this mess was and what part Brown played in it you might get a more meaningful answer. That is what you want isn’t it?


roublen 06.05.09 at 8:48 pm

not a UK citizen, but the failure of left-leaning Brits to support Brown, basically the world leader most committed to fighting global poverty, has been a disappointment and a surprise. Brown’s playing a tough hand, no doubt, but I think he’s doing a pretty good job, and to some extent this is Murdoch-led hysteria. Vacuous seems a more apt word for the critics of Brown, rather than the man himself, who if anything is too substantive & policy-oriented. I’d like to be reassured that Cameron’s up to the job, but from what I’ve seen he strikes me as George Bush with a bad haircut.

Brown has shown a lot of steel in standing up and doing his job under adverse circumtances, and from my POV it’s pretty damned inspiring.


roublen 06.05.09 at 9:05 pm

not a UK citizen, but the failure of left-leaning Brits to support Brown, probably the world leader most committed to fighting global poverty and strengthening global institutions to prevent genocide, has been a disappointment and a surprise. Brown’s playing a tough hand, no doubt, but I think he’s doing a pretty good job, and to some extent this is Murdoch-led hysteria. Vacuous seems a more apt word for the critics of Brown, rather than the man himself, who if anything is too substantive & policy-oriented. I’d like to be reassured that Cameron’s up to the job, but from what I’ve seen he strikes me as George Bush with a bad haircut.

Brown has shown a lot of steel in standing up and doing his job under adverse circumtances, and from my POV it’s pretty damned inspiring.


MDHinton 06.05.09 at 9:57 pm

Bunbury – with respect, and I really mean that, if you can’t see what mess I’m talking about and the part Brown has played in it then there’s really no point continuing the discussion.

None of which has anything to do with the question of feeling responsible for the government one elects but nobody seems interested in that so it’s clearly time for bed.


sg 06.05.09 at 10:00 pm

roublen, there are a million dead iraqis because of Brown. I don’t know that he gets much credit for “strengthening global institutions to prevent genocide”. Also, his presiding over the country which produced the credit crunch, and his unwillingness to tackle tax havens, doesn’t really play well for the whole “committed to fighting global poverty” thing. I don’t think you could say that he’s doing a good job on the week that 6 of his cabinet quit, and he lost every council in England.

If he’s playing a tough hand, it’s only the hand he dealt himself with 10 years in power: two vicious wars of choice (in one of which another kid soldier died this week), a country in economic collapse, a resurgent far right playing on the slogans he failed to live up to, a police force that kills people for fun while he’s playing Big Boy with his betters, and a bunch of corrupt and inept fools for a cabinet.

And I don’t think you can credit the choice of “stick it out till the voters screw you” over “get screwed now” as showing “a lot of steel”.

Bye bye Gordon and bye bye labour. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, and thanks a bunch for letting the BNP and UKIP in before you left.


Tim Wilkinson 06.05.09 at 11:02 pm

OK MDH @41 – what is the point you want to discuss about feeling responsible? Is it an argument against tactical/pragmatic voting? If so, tell it to the Judean Popular People’s Front. If not, what are you retrospectively recommending?

(Lab 92, abst 97, Soc Alliance 01, Lib Dem 05) and also not now nor not never a Lib Dem.


Stuart 06.05.09 at 11:35 pm

sg: Also, his presiding over the country which produced the credit crunch,

Gordon Brown is the PotUS now? Someone should tell Bush and Obama they were/are living in the wrong house.


roublen 06.05.09 at 11:48 pm

sg, agree with you on Iraq, Brown has to accept his share of responsibility, though I’ve seen no evidence Cameron would have done or will do any better. Indeed, Cameron would probably have been as big a cheerleader as Blair.

I don’t really see what “presiding over a credit crunch” or “not cracking down on tax havens” has to do with fighting poverty. Pre bubble-burst, I don’t think any UK or US politician was calling for counter-cyclical policy in an extremely prescient way. And post bubble-burst, I think the UK government response has been above average, doing what they can to prevent suffering during a down economy. By contrast, Cameron’s proposals to cut spending during a recession are wrong-headed.

On police brutality, it seems to me that Brown is a politician more likely than most to do an honest, non-coverup investigation of a police brutality incident. And on corruption, frankly it seems to me a manufactured outrage. Fiddling expense accounts is not ideal, and once it’s exposed it should be stopped, but it’s a minor issue, and the media outlets trying to make it a major issue have ulterior motives. Murdoch has more corruption in his little pinkie than the typical MP has in his/her entire hand.


Matthew 06.06.09 at 12:07 am

Re: Johnson:

Ok, why would Johnson want to be Prime Minister of the UK when he’s bound to lose in a year’s time?

Erm, well perhaps being Prime Minister of the UK remains, while a bit tarnished, one of the most imporant positions you can hold in world politics? And add to that the history.

I think it’d be a bit odd if you wanted to be a cabinet minister, but didn’t want to be the PM.


Bunbury 06.06.09 at 12:23 am

MDH, you could quite easily say what part of the mess you are talking about and what role you think Gordon Brown played in it and why someone might feel responsible for it. Since you cannot bring yourself to do so it seems unsurprising that few have brought themselves to reply If you did people could then say whether that applied to them, whether they agreed with your conclusions or reasoning. As it is I don’t know whether you mean the credit crunch, the fiscal deficit, the moat cleaning, disunity in the Labour party, failure to join the Euro, failure to leave the EU or Susan Boyle’s removal to the priory.

If I knew I could tell you whether I thought that voting for Jeremy Corbyn, a member of a party lead by a very unpopular Tony Blair was responsible, possibly through the medium of Gordon Brown, for pursuing a policy that was wrong and would not also have been pursued by plausible alternatives.

For instance I will suppose it’s the credit crunch that exercises you:

One: If I hadn’t voted for Jeremy Corbyn he would still have won.

Two: If my vote had made a difference it would have given the seat to a LibDem.

Three: Supposing I had voted against Jeremy Corbyn and it had put a different and presumably conservative government in charge it wouldn’t have made any difference. I’m in general not sure that even heroic chancelloring by a real genius could have prevented it but would Oliver Letwin have saved us from the credit crunch? Having run on a manifesto of less regulation I’m not sure Oliver would even have been trying.

Four: Once it happened the Tories would most likely have done just the same or made things worse. They criticise the VAT cut but Ken Clarke said it was the obvious thing to do. They might have cut spending sharply but I don’t think that would have been better.

So, on this score, I’m not feeling terribly guilty.

I could go through other possibilities but without a clue from you as to what you are talking about it would seem an excessive response to what without further elucidation is a fatuous question couched in terms of a premise that eliminates interest it might have.


Mg 06.06.09 at 12:52 am

Roublen, this is a guy who had Thatcher around for tea and biscuits in his first three months. Admired her, apparently. After spending the first half of his premiership cuddling up to business, why would any on the left take his claims of being a good old socialist/Keynesian all along once the crisis kicked off as any less of a desperate bid for popularity than the “Britishness” meme he toyed with and the aforementioned Thatcher incident?

If Brown is “committed” and “substantive”, then that’s certainly not how he (not just the press) has presented himself. Empty, confused, lacking a political compass, lost for what his ideology is supposed to be – or in a word, vacuous, seems to fit him best.


will u. 06.06.09 at 2:09 am

I remember there was some hope, at the outset of Brown’s premiership, that at last we had jettisoned the spin-driven, crypto-Tory “moderniser” Blair and had a real Labour PM — one who had called for a “massive and irreversible shift of power to working people” in 1975. I had some such hope, because, from across the pond, I intensely admired the British s0c1a1ist* parliamentary tradition and thought it institutionally resilient. Sons of Ralph Miliband are in the cabinet, after all, and the Longest Suicide Note was only a couple decades ago. I remember even Eric Hobsbawm writing about Brown’s accession with some such enthusiasm (though certainly he was inclined to be partial, given that his daughter helmed a PR firm with Sarah Brown.) What a gross misreading. In the next general election, it’s quite possible that, after a century of struggle, Labour will go the way of the Liberal Party, and the descendants of the Liberals will form Her Majesty’s Opposition.

* will this get me past the spam filters?


roublen 06.06.09 at 3:09 am

“that’s certainly not how he (not just the press) has presented himself”

I dunno, read the transcript of his speech to Congress. Perhaps he’s a real Jekyll & Hyde act, but if not he strikes me as your basic garden-variety insufferably earnest good-government leftie. And a rather admirable one, IMO.

“. . .In the Rwandan museum of genocide, there is a memorial to the countless children who were among those murdered in the massacres in Rwanda.

And there is one portrait of a child, David. The words beneath him are brief, yet they weigh on me heavily. It says, “Name, David. Age, 10. Favorite sport, football. Enjoyed making people laugh. Dreamed to become a doctor. Cause of death, tortured to death. Last words, ‘The United Nations will come for us.'”

But we never did. That child believed the best of us, but he was wrong, as to our eternal discredit. We tend to think of a day of judgment as a moment to come, but our faith tells us, as the writer said, that judgment is more than that. It’s a summary court in perpetual session

And when I visit those bare, rundown, yet teeming classrooms across Africa, they’re full of children like our children, desperate to learn. But because we’ve been unable as a world to keep our promises to help , more and more children, I tell you, are being lured to expensively funded madrassas, teaching innocent children to hate us.

So for our security and our children’s security and these children’s future, you know, the greatest gift of our generation, the greatest gift we could give to the world, the gift of America and Britain could be that every child in every country should have the chance 70 million children today do not have, the chance to go to school, to spell their names, to count their age, and perhaps learn of a great generation who are striving to make their freedom real. . .”

Those words seem to me something you’d expect to come from Samantha Power, or a human rights activist. To have them coming from the current UK prime minister seems like a big deal, an important first step.


alex 06.06.09 at 7:45 am

@51 – heart in the right place, I’ll grant you, but hasn’t actually done much to make it happen, and meanwhile is a) responsible for over a decade of lax economic regulation leading to massive boom & bust; b) as responsible as other senior UK ministers for marching into chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan; and c) presiding over a govt quite literally in tatters. The Brown premiership is FUBAR.

p.s. isn’t that whole ’10 yrs old, tortured to death, the UN will come’ just too perfect? Could have been written for a politician’s speech…


O'Malley 06.06.09 at 7:57 am

For those who want to get a sense of the new Conservative MPs in the next Parliament (and there are likely to be at least 120 of them), here’s a Times piece that I thought was useful:

As far as I can tell, the Conservatives havent outlined any clear policies, so we really dont know what they’re going to do. Which spending cuts will they prioritize? We know that they say the NHS (and education?) is inviolable, but i’ve always wondered why someone doesnt ask them WHY they dont want to cut any spending on the NHS. It seems that they’ve realized the vast majority of the public doesnt want spending cuts in the NHS, but i’m not convinced they’ve got principled reasons for their changed view. The only policy i know they’re going to pursue is trying to overturn the human rights act, which will make the UK the first democratic country to decide to leave an international human rights institution (i think). Conservative ministers are on record as saying that the replacement ‘British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities’ will be 99% the same as the human rights act, so we can all speculate on why they’re so keen on this piece of legislation.
But does anyone know their current views on taxation, foundation hospitals, education (grammar schools, academies?, tuition limits in higher education, private funding in higher ed), etc? Yes, we’ve got statements and voting records on these issues, but i really struggle to understand what exaclty the conservatives are going to do in almost every policy area, and where their priorities actually lie. And i’m particularly concerned about this given the very large spending cuts they’ll have to make in their first budget.

It’s also worth pointing out that nothing is getting done in government right now, making Sugar’s appoitment seem even more desperate. Proposed legislation such as the Equality Bill and Bill of Rights may not get passed, and though i’m not wholly convinced by either, we can be sure the the Conservative equivalents (if any) will be much worse. Peopple are concerned about how all this speculation on rebellion and leadership is damaging labour in terms of voting behaviour, but it’s also resulting in very ineffective governance, and so i doubt we can expect any progressive legislation however long Brown manages to hold on. What will Brown’s legacy (as PM) then be? No, dont answer that question please.


ejh 06.06.09 at 8:17 am

The idea that Brown has played his hand well is laughable.

As, on the other hand, is the spectacle of the Blairite Caroline Flint complaining about Brown having an inner circle. Unlike his predecessor?

(One thing very clear to me, even from a distance, is that the Blairites have a lot more friends in the media than Brown’s friends do.)


Katherine 06.06.09 at 8:20 am

it’s still a party without a philosophy and wanting it that way.

EJH, that’s really not true, but given the lack of publicity the Lib Dems get, ever, I’m not surprised that you would think so. The philosophical shenanigans of “New” Labour got squillions of column inches during the early 90’s, so everyone knew about them. The struggles in the LibDems over the “Orange Book” faction (of which Nick Clegg is one) got nearly nothing,


MDHinton 06.06.09 at 8:44 am

Bunbury – I said I should give up but the sheer beauty of your final sentence has provoked me to try to elicit more of your prose.

The suggestion that the government is a diaster and the PM must go was not mine. It was made by Chris Bertram in the original post. Given that he thinks Brown is a disaster and admits voting for his party all his life, does he feel responsible for what he sees as a very bad outcome? Is it not somewhat hypocritical to help bring a guy in and then try to fire him without raising a hand and saying, ‘It’s partly my fault he’s there,’ ?


ejh 06.06.09 at 9:15 am

The struggles in the LibDems over the “Orange Book” faction (of which Nick Clegg is one) got nearly nothing

Well, they got a little bit, but to be fair they weren’t remotely as fundamental as the New Labour v Old Labour battle. They were about policy (and specifically what sort of policy should be adopted to attract what sort of voter) far more than about some sort of defining philosophy. They don’t define themselves – they make a virtue out of that, which is their privilege, but it’s not terribly unreasonable if as a result people find them lacking in substance.


Bunbury 06.06.09 at 9:17 am

Well, now it’s tomorrow morning and I’m no longer drunk but you are unchanged and your question is still fatuous.


MDHinton 06.06.09 at 9:31 am

Well, there we are: ask a fatuous question …
I suggest you open a bottle.


Bunbury 06.06.09 at 9:46 am

I’ll pop a cork if you get back under your bridge.


Dave Weeden 06.06.09 at 10:24 am

To come back to Bunbury’s question @ 7: the Labour Party needs to *elect* a leader, just as Brown should have held a leadership election (and perhaps a general election). Only the victor has a chance of holding the party together. There are several ways a leadership election would have helped Brown (if he’d won of course). He’d have a mandate; he’d know who was against him; he’d have had to have campaigned and would have had feedback from members (if he’d listened); and he’d have had to declare some policies. Democracy is such a good idea that we should export less of it, and try it at home too.

I voted Labour in 1997 partly in the belief that Brown would succeed sooner rather than later (partly because it was the only thing to do). By the time he became PM, I’d given up on him. The post of Labour Party Leader is not the gift of the incumbent to give away; it belongs to the members. Brown didn’t seem to believe that. What’s the point of all the talk of ending hereditary peerages and stuff if you just run the People’s Party like a feudal tyrant?

Back to the ‘Apprentice’ theme. Brown yesterday: “If I didn’t think I was the right person, leading the right team to meet these difficult challenges I wouldn’t be standing here,” Mr Brown said. You know, there’s a reality TV show where we get to laugh at arseholes whose self-belief far outstrips their talents, and they generally talk like that.


chris y 06.06.09 at 11:02 am

Alex @52: as responsible as other senior UK ministers for marching into chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More responsible. He held the purse strings. He never quibbled over a penny for the wars.

Also, what photographic negatives does bloody Mandelson have in a drawer? This is a man who was drummed out of government in disgrace twice, and crawled back each time. He shouldn’t even be in public life at this stage. And now he gets to be a super-minister.


Tim Wilkinson 06.06.09 at 11:10 am

Talking of obvious headlines, I have been surprised during the expenses ‘expose’ not to see ‘A Plague on Both Your Houses.’

Maybe I missed it.


chris y 06.06.09 at 11:12 am

Moreover, I notice that that contemptible press release on the BERR/DIUS merger, although it makes some grudging references to the continued existence of higher education, seems to have completely dumped the social inclusion agenda, which was carried by DIUS and was strongly supported by Denham. Sorry if you’re working class kid, you’re not our priority any more.

Prediction: the Vice Chancellors are going to go totally librarian-poo.


engels 06.06.09 at 1:05 pm

I have been surprised during the expenses ‘expose’ not to see ‘A Plague on Both Your Houses.’

They’re saving that one for when swine flu shuts down Parliament.


Uncle Kvetch 06.06.09 at 1:28 pm

Isn’t it time that someone pointed out that Surallan isn’t actually a particularly successful businessman?

People have been pointing this out about Donald Trump for a good 20 years now. And yet somehow we still can’t get him to STFU.


ejh 06.06.09 at 1:52 pm

Also, what photographic negatives does bloody Mandelson have in a drawer?

None: but he has opinions which suit political commentators and he has more friends among that group than in the party, having worked out a generation ago which set of people were the more important. As did David Cameron.

the Labour Party needs to elect a leader, just as Brown should have held a leadership election

So it should and so should he: but where was the Labour Party when Brown was taking over? Was it actually saying so? If you don’t stand up for democracy, you don’t get it.

Moreover – and I know I’m banging on about the commentariat, but it’s important – who among Westminster correspondents was saying anything other than that a real, genuine election would be “damaging” or “divisive”?


mart 06.06.09 at 5:47 pm

To second the comment above (#66), the Labour party could have voted on a leader when Blair stepped down but didn’t because, IIRC, the only interested challenger couldn’t get enough signatures among MPs for his nomination.

On a related note, the media’s stupid repetition of the “he’s not been elected” meme is really annoying – do these guy’s just not get how the constitution works here?


sg 06.06.09 at 6:33 pm

Just on an interesting side note to all this Broon stuff… last week the Tories left the centre right block in the European parliament and joined some bunch of mad fringe rightist AGW-deniers. If (against all Dsquareds predictions) the BNP and/or UKIP win a seat in these elections, they will be in parliament and I wonder if they will join the mad loony right bloc?

If so this means that, despite Cameron’s supposed hatred of the loony right, he’ll be in alliance with them. Or he’ll have to fight the rest of his bloc to deny the BNP admission to the asylum with all their loony mates. Is this possible, or is there a madder fringe they can join? I would love to see the results of that little bit of confusion…


Walt 06.06.09 at 8:13 pm

I’m confused by the institutional details. Can Labour replace Brown without holding a general election? If they can’t, then what’s the logic for trying to force him out? Won’t they get killed at the polls?


Dave Weeden 06.06.09 at 9:29 pm

sg: there’s a wonderfully pithy take on that from Janice Turner in the Times today. The whole article is good (well-written, astute, and I agree with it, FWIW):

Great to see also that while Mr Obama left Egypt to make common cause with Angela Merkel over the economic crisis and nuclear disputes with Iran, that aspiring international statesman David Cameron has decreed that Tories in the EU will work not with her, but with a far-right posse of Gypsy-haters and homophobes, a sort of Borat Alliance.


mart 06.06.09 at 10:40 pm

sg: I think there’s a bloc even further to the right including the French Nationalists that would presumably welcome the BNP. UKIP already have several seats, but are not part of a bloc in the EP.

Walt: legally, they can replace Brown without having to hold a general election, but that is likely to make them even more unpopular (if that’s possible) so practically speaking there would have to be one. Yes, they proabably will get killed in the polls.


P O'Neill 06.07.09 at 1:26 am

While we’re on the topic of actually good Times columns, I think Minette Marrin is also worth a look. It’s not clear that the Labour strategists have understood the impact of weeks of headlines about one depressing child abuse case or botched probation after another. They can try to pass the blame to councils or agencies but the public ain’t buying.


sg 06.07.09 at 2:30 am

That’s a shame! I was hoping for quite a spectacle. But the Times article sounds funny…


Jon Livesey 06.08.09 at 12:12 am

“Despite a lifetime of voting Labour…..”.

This is something I find really puzzling. Parties go through periods of good performance and periods of bad – just like companies, students, armies, etc- and yet there are people who will cheerfully admit to a lifetime of voting for the same party.

Since the Second World War, Labour has brought economic disaster on the nation three separate times, and yet the electorate has exhibited the same behaviour pattern throughout this period. When a disaster strikes, but only then, floating voters will vote against Labour, but as soon as the disaster is safely in the past, they will vote Labour once more, and we are set up for the next crash.

Meanwhile, Labour’s core vote is so tribal that they would continue to vote Labour no matter what happened.

Voting without memory, or as a means of expressing an identity, seems like a very bad idea to me.


Bunbury 06.08.09 at 1:30 am

you seem to be suggesting that the Labour party causes economic crashes. Would you expand on why you think this? In particular it seems that you are suggesting that the Labour party is responsible for the latest crash. Would you explain what a plausible alternative would have done to prevent it? I haven’t actually heard what the conservatives for example would have done to prevent it. I also remember unemployment of over 3 million and double digit interest rates so find it less than obvious that economic disaster can be avoided simply by not voting Labour.


StevenAttewell 06.08.09 at 5:21 am

I have to say, while I didn’t expect any words of praise for Brown, I am a little surprised by the lack of any thought to what happens next, and the attitude of “good riddance” extending to the Labour Party as an institution.

This surprised and saddened me. It surprises me, because as a progressive who is also a Democratic Party partisan, my attitude to the dominance of the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party from 2000-2004 wasn’t to say “to hell with the Party” but to try to win it back from people who had steered it astray – and luckily that was the attitude of, for example, the Dean for America supporters who heeded his call to take over the Democratic Party from the local level on up. Without that effort, I really don’t think there would have been a major Democratic victory in 2006 (there still would have been some, but it would have been weaker without forces pushing the party to oppose and speak out against key elements of the Bush agenda), or the Obama campaign’s victory in the primaries.

So what saddens me is that people here seem to be willing to see the party of Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson die an ugly and undignified death without even trying to rescue it. Last time I checked, the Labour Party still has local constituency parties, union affiliates, various clubs and organizations, as well as the Party Conference, the National Exec. Committee, and the NPF. Why not at least try to take the party back, either before or after the election?


ejh 06.08.09 at 7:32 am

Because that battle was lost a very long time ago.

(That’s not to say that nobody will try: perhaps they will and good luck to them. But too many other people spent too long trying to do what’s right and getting nothing but kicks for it.)


sg 06.08.09 at 7:38 am

StevenAtwell, look at the electoral landscape after the European elections – 2 Nazis elected, and the second biggest vote-winner a bunch of far-right anti-immigration lunatics. There aren’t exactly a lot of Britons interested in progressive or left wing politics who are left in Britain to reform the party…


Chris Bertram 06.08.09 at 7:46 am

_Why not at least try to take the party back, either before or after the election?_

Well maybe. But didn’t we already spend the 70s and 80s trying exactly that (Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Briefing etc etc) only to end up with Blair, Brown and the likes of James Purnell and Stephen Byers, the people who have brought us all to this?


ejh 06.08.09 at 7:55 am

There aren’t exactly a lot of Britons interested in progressive or left wing politics who are left in Britain to reform the party…

I don’t think the first of these propositions is quite true, or at least it doesn’t follow from the premise provided. But very few of these people are very interested in trying to expend their energies reforming the Labour Party.


dsquared 06.08.09 at 8:11 am

If (against all Dsquareds predictions) the BNP and/or UKIP win a seat in these elections

So, so, fucking annoying this one. I was more or less right on the analysis but lost the bet. BNP didn’t pick up more than a couple of thousand votes (actually lost votes in Yorkshire) and would have been miles away from winning anything if turnout had anywhere near held up, but actually it dropped ten percentage points. I even got it right that UKIP was being massively underestimated by all the BNP-theorists. Obviously I have to take this on the chin and am paying out (because when there are flukes in my direction I certainly claim the credit), but it is galling to have lost basically because I failed to foresee the expenses scandal. All you can do in these circumstances is repeat the poker player’s mantra that when you make a correct bet you win, even if you happen to lose the money on that occasion.


Alex 06.08.09 at 8:53 am

None: but he has opinions which suit political commentators and he has more friends among that group than in the party,

but this isn’t true is it? literally nothing is more obvious conventional wisdom among that group than that Mandelson is evil, strange (if you’re Simon Heffer or Richard Littlejohn insert ***dogwhistle: Jewish and ghay!*** here), etc, and this has been true ever since 1997. I presume he might have been popular with the press for three weeks in 1994-1995, but then so were Menswear…


ejh 06.08.09 at 9:01 am

literally nothing is more obvious conventional wisdom among that group than that Mandelson is evil

1. This is not true
2. I am using “friends” in the sense in which it applies with that particular group


StevenAttewell 06.08.09 at 9:33 am

EJH, Chris, and SG:

To be honest, the “we tried and failed” argument does not impress me at all. Look at the American progressive movement post-1972: we failed twice to get an alternative to Carter, we got party loyalists (albiet a rather liberal one in Mondale) instead of the Rainbow Coalition, and got rolled by the New Democrats from 1992-2004 (Kerry wasn’t a New Democrat particularly, but they joined ranks with him to shut out Howard Dean. Then look at the last 4 years. Sometimes the political climate isn’t right, and sometimes you just have damn bad luck, and that might well mean an entire generation has to toil without seeing the result, but commitment to a cause should mean a willingness to endure time ” in the wilderness” in the service of that cause.

Progressive politics is the ultimate long game – it took Labour from 1899 (founding of the LRC) to 1924 to get into government, that government was a disaster as was the succeeding one; it wasn’t until 1945 that Labour was able to rule on its own, and then it spent 13 years in opposition; then they were in office for 11 years in the 60s and 70s; then 18 years in the wilderness, then 12 years of New Labour. If activists had given up in the 1930s because they’d tried and failed to win the party free from MacDonald and Snowdon, or in the 1950s because they’d failed to win the party free from Gaitskell, the Labour Party never would have held power at all.

If progressive activists really care about what’s going on, then the fact that they tried and failed 20-30 years ago isn’t an excuse. New Labour has lost both public support and intellectual confidence – now is the best time to try to fight for the party. Just like it was in 2004 when the New Democrat’s triangulation had failed in 2000, 2002, and 2004.

As for the most recent elections, all I’ll say is that I think activists need to own turnout. I didn’t see any huge push by the British left to try to out-mobilize UKIP or the BNP, but if “very few of these people are very interested in trying to expend their energies reforming the Labour Party,” I’m not surprised they’re not getting their act together to win European Parliamentary elections.


dsquared 06.08.09 at 9:44 am

Steven, this autobackslapping would be a lot more impressive if it was President Kucinich we were talking about. The Labour Party might certainly be persuaded to rally round a figure with politics slightly to the left of Obama – that’s what we’re scared about.


ejh 06.08.09 at 9:48 am

If progressive activists really care about what’s going on, then the fact that they tried and failed 20-30 years ago isn’t an excuse

Says who? Who the hell are you to tell people who spend half their lives fighting a cause that they should spend the other half doing the same?

If activists had given up in the 1930s because they’d tried and failed to win the party free from MacDonald and Snowdon, or in the 1950s because they’d failed to win the party free from Gaitskell, the Labour Party never would have held power at all.

This is a bit strange and tends to suggest that you’re not really very familair with your material. For instance, MacDonald and Snowden (Snowdon is a mountain) were both expelled from the Labour Party. The struggles against Gaitkskell were mostly after the Fifties. And so on.


Tim Wilkinson 06.08.09 at 1:12 pm

71 FWIW I thought the Turner piece, with the exception of the aside you quote, little more than a standard issue feel-good puff-piece masquerading as social comment: you suddenly remember the point of America: its big-picture optimism and modernity, its epic generosity and can-do attitude… Strewth – if I want this kind of fatuous fawning, I’ll read a celeb interview in the colour supplement. At least that’s based on a pretty transparent page-filling/PR ‘synergy’, and its origins in a good lunch with an agent are fairly obvious, unlike Turner’s unselfconscious gushing.

73 Marin’s impressionistic use of ‘anecdata’ in support of an ill-defined thesis on an emotive topic is indeed a good example of the genre. Is that what you were saying? NuLab strategists can’t possibly be unaware of it, just unable to combat it. Which is not to say that whatever point she’s gesturing toward might not be true.

For an exceptional Times piece (and my chance to be less curmudgeonly) how about this one, which I understand was cut from the print version?


StevenAttewell 06.08.09 at 4:39 pm

Autobackslapping is hardly what I’m going for here. As you point out, Obama isn’t Kucinich – but he does open up political space, make it more possible to talk and think (and act) progressively, hence the fact that Keynesianism and universal health care are now back within the Democratic Party mainstream. If Labour could rally around someone somewhat to the the Left of New Labour, it would allow the left wing of the party to start talking and thinking and pushing in a leftwards direction.

Like I said, this is the long game – Democratic politics in the Age of Obama is more to the left than politics in the age of Dean vs. Kerry, and even more Left than the age of Clinton. After Obama, it will now be possible to run outspoken progressives in national Democratic Party primaries while defusing the DLC counter-attack that “they’ll be called socialists! no one will ever elect a liberal!” So the next Democratic nominee will be to the left of Obama, and so on.

I don’t claim to be anyone special or politically all-knowing. I’m someone who’s spent the majority of their political career to date in constant defeat – I backed Bradley against Gore because he was the only other hat in the ring, I tried often in vain to get progressives to vote for Gore after the primaries, I backed a liberal academic in the MA Democratic primary for governor in 2001-2 and saw our campaign just barely got beat by a party hack thanks to division on the Left (and thus, Mitt Romney was allowed into national politics), I worked for Howard Dean in 2003-4 and saw our campaign burn to the ground over the most idiotic thing imaginable, and then saw Kerry fumble the ball as I knew he would. I also backed Edwards in the primaries – although that’s a loss that retrospectively was somewhat fortunate. I was one of only 8,500 Democrats to vote for Dean in the New York City primary because I was determined to choose who I thought was the best candidate, and one of only 193,000 Democrats to vote for Edwards in the California primary, again for the same reason. I’m saying I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to lose repeatedly, but giving up doesn’t do your cause any good.

And I suppose if you want to argue that older generations fought the good fight and should be allowed some peace, I’d ask – where are the younger generations of activists? Why shouldn’t they be fighting to take back the party instead of watching it die?

Yes, I knew MacDonald and Snowden were kicked out – but they were able to keep hold of the government for five years, and they badly split Labour in the next election. My point was that Labour activists didn’t give up even though they lost 225 seats in one go. Likewise, there was plenty of fighting between Bevanites and Gaitskillites starting from his election as party leader in 55 and his leadership in the 59 election, but I take your point. However, my point was that despite Gaitskill’s continued tenure, people opposed to him kept fighting, despite losing attempts to unseat him.


sg 06.08.09 at 9:26 pm

Don’t mind ejh and dsquared, StevenAttwell, they’re just sour because their dream of the British as a noble, mildly left-wing but occasionally quaintly racist people has suddenly run into the nightmare that is the reality of British civil life.

I didn’t know you had a bet, dsquared, and it certainly seems like a sensible way to make money – betting on the stupidity of the BNP. But they don’t seem so stupid now, and you were betting against the stupidity of the party which marched into the Iraq war and the credit crunch, and relying on the British peoples’ preference for competence over racism – which, given they kept voting New Labour in, seems a bit of a gamble in retrospect.


mart 06.09.09 at 2:14 am

did you not even read dsquared’s comment (#82), sg? The BNP’s result was actually several thousand votes down on 2004, they only picked up seats because overall turnout was consierably weaker too. There’s not much to worry about considering that the far-right nationalist group in the EP has fewer seats than the Greens, and it’s highly unlikely that their vote will be replicated in a general election. New Labour were re-elected because of the incompetence of the opposition, at least in the last election – even then they only got 35% of the vote, which would have prevented them becoming the government if we actually had a fair voting system.


sg 06.09.09 at 7:43 am

several thousand votes down, mart… that’s a real collapse of the vote.

I heard this theory on the BBC during the count: that the BNP voters all turned out while everyone else stayed home. We don’t yet have any evidence of this against the alternative theory, that BNP voters stayed home just as much as everyone else, but they have become more popular in the interim.

Either way dsquared’s theory – that the BNP in power will shoot themselves in the foot – hasn’t worked at the council level, because their vote didn’t collapse by more than a few thousand. Now they have European Parliament money to play with – 4 million pounds according to the Guardian.

I also think a lot of people underestimate the importance of anti-immigration sentiment in the UKIP vote. They talk about Europe in the press, but their propaganda has a very strong anti-immigration streak. They’re here to stay in the UK, and the left is done for.

Well done UK! Just keep blaming the foreigners for all your problems and vote in the lunatic right – it’s sure to work out in the long run…


Chris Bertram 06.09.09 at 8:36 am

sg: both in this thread and in previous ones you’ve made the one point that you have to make, that you loathe the UK, that you hate (or hated) living here, etc etc. I think we get the picture. The vast majority of people (over 77%) voted for parties other than UKIP and the BNP. In 1989, the Greens secured 15% of the Euro vote in the UK and humilated the Lib Dems (or whatever they were called back then). It didn’t lead to future Green success and this isn’t the breakthrough moment for the far right either. Most of the UKIP vote will collapse back to the Tories in a general election.


bert 06.09.09 at 11:42 am

And also, Worstall lost.
There are all sorts of small consolations to be found.

To be serious, I think that for all the worry about blue-collar racism, the UK may have a far more serious problem with white-collar xenophobia, for the simple reason that the governing party in waiting is riddled with it. Philip Stephens today in the FT:

It is clear to all that Mr Cameron wants to derail the process of European integration … Wrecking the Lisbon treaty would be a declaration of war. Such would be the crisis in Britain’s relationship with its partners that it would precipitate compelling calls for a re-evaluation of its membership of the EU. Many Conservatives, one suspects, would cheer. As for the Tory leader, I am not at all sure that he has thought this through.


bert 06.09.09 at 11:44 am


alex 06.09.09 at 12:34 pm

Re. UKIP/BNP, shouldn’t there be more play for the argument that if a fairly significant proportion of the electorate wants to vote for clownish fascists and/or saloon-bar little-englander bores, then that is a] their democratic right; and b] almost entirely the fault of the more ‘conventional’ politicians who have failed to make their alternatives look more attractive? Or else the pissing and moaning might start to come dangerously close to Brecht’s taunt about wanting to abolish the people and elect a new one.

Personally, and pragmatically, I think that if, say, 15% of the electorate are, in fact, fascists, then they should have the chance to vote for a party which will ensure their views never enter government. On the Hitler precedent thing, call me when unemployment hits 20% and the government has been ruling by emergency decree for 3 years, and we’ll talk.


MDHinton 06.09.09 at 1:21 pm

Bert – you seem to equate wanting to leave the EU with xenophobia. Whilst that may be a factor for some, there are plenty of other possible reasons for such a desire. Are you suggesting that the people of any country which does not cede a portion of its sovereignty to an international bloc necessarily hate foreigners?


bert 06.09.09 at 2:24 pm

Attaboy, MDHinton. When you fall off the horse, get straight back on.
I’d say that xenophobia is precisely what motivates a large portion of Tory opinion, both in the parliamentary party and in the constituency associations. As long as we understand the same thing by it, “robust nationalism” works tolerably well as an alternative description. I think there’s much to be made of the parallels with the John Bolton strain of Republican self-righteousness, self-love and self-indulgence.

It’s been fifteen years or so since the fever raged unchecked through the Tory party. It’s therefore understandable that your memory may have faded regarding precisely how they destroyed their standing as a plausible party of government.


StevenAttewell 06.09.09 at 3:32 pm

Alex: I disagree. i think as citizens you hold everyone accountable – including yourself. After all, the citizenry is sovereign, and has to make decisions responsibly, otherwise representative democracy doesn’t work; there’s a reason why 18th and 19th century republicans talked about the need to instill “republican virtue,” they thought that being a citizen of a democracy wasn’t just a passive status, it was a way of life and thinking that you had to learn how to do.

In any case, I do think that social movements and political activists of the Left do have to bear some responsibility as well for not getting out there, counter-organizing these communities, and confronting fascist organizers (although to be fair, there have been some quite noble attempts to do this). My comments in this thread more speak to the extent of commitment of resources and manpower to this task, especially in light of the ability of the Left to mobilize as seen during the runup to the Iraq qar.


StevenAttewell 06.09.09 at 3:33 pm



MDHinton 06.09.09 at 3:39 pm

Thanks bert – I don’t actually remember the fall but nice of you to be encouraging. Would have been nicer still if you had come somewhere close to responding to my point but anyway…

I have no idea what motivates the Tory party but it’s a remarkable prejudice to have that anyone who has a different view from yours over Britain’s relationship with the EU must hate foreign people.


Nick 06.09.09 at 5:00 pm

The truly worrying thing for our politics here, surely, is the fact that in the last thirty-three years, we have experienced – a charismatic, multi-election winning PM stand down in office and be replaced by a bumblingly incompetent principle-free replacement; who lost an election to another charismatic, multi-election-winning PM, who stood down in office and was replaced by a bumblingly incompetent principle-free replacement; who lost an election to another charismatic multi-election-winning PM, who stood down in office and was replaced by a bumblingly incompetent . . . you get the picture. Tragedy, frace; tragedy, farce . . . .
Somehow Alan Johnson doesn’t strike me as having much to offer us on this view, but then again neither does David Cameroon (a toothpaste salesman with nothing up his tube) or indeed the Lib Dems (a century out of power . . . the sense of entitlement and swivel-eyed enthusiasm for grasping the levers of power would be overwhelming) . . .I despair, but then I’m a life-long Labour voter . . .


bert 06.09.09 at 5:43 pm

I don’t actually remember …
Scroll up.
I have no idea …
Couldn’t be clearer.

Invent a straw man somewhere else.


MDHinton 06.09.09 at 5:58 pm

Bert- mate, at last we’ve found common ground: neither of us has a clue what you’re talking about.


sg 06.09.09 at 7:04 pm

Steven, if you read this piece in the Guardian it would not appear to be the case that people haven’t counter-organised. The 10% of the vote that the BNP got up there occurred despite a considerable effort to prevent it. This doesn’t bode well for your arguments against those like Alex, ejh etc. who think the Labour Party is dead; but it also doesn’t bode well for the arguments that English civil society isn’t steeped in racism. If it took 3.5 million letters, a week of press adverts and the biggest political email in history to keep the BNP vote at just 10%, well, things aren’t looking so brave out there.

Chris, I haven’t said anything in this thread about loathing the UK, I have simply given my opinion about how racist it is – an opinion it seems pretty strange to argue against when nearly 1 million people voted Nazi. Alex is probably right that it’s not a breakthrough moment for the far right, but 55% of voters voted for anti-European toryism or out-and-out xenophobia in this election, and UKIP are now here to stay. The BNP now hold more than 50 council seats, which may be a pittance but it’s a clear sign that they’re permanent, and they’ve been gaining ground since 2003. And now they have some real European money to back it up.

I agree with Alex that getting this vote out in public is a good thing, but what is the response? Sniffing huffily at these people or throwing eggs at them. It’s now time for Britain to have a serious conversation about race and immigration – something long overdue here – but the Labour party is too busy dog-whistling and the educated left is too busy being haughtily superior. And while you try to pretend that Britain doesn’t have a serious problem with race and racism, these people seem to be doing a pretty good job of harnessing just exactly that sentiment. It’s time for the British left to get real about the people they would like to represent.


bert 06.09.09 at 7:35 pm

I may have spoken too soon.
BBC reports tonight: PM to unveil voting reform plan
As if sending the BNP to Brussels wasn’t enough, how about having a clutch of them in Westminster too.


bert 06.09.09 at 8:07 pm

The BBC have updated the story.
The first version said that Brown would be announcing concrete plans for a new Westminster voting system tomorrow. The update is full of enormous caveats.
So, as you were.
Back to the debate as to whether Britain as a whole is racist, or parts of Britain are responding to an artfully sold racist pitch. The answer will determine whether the BNP can break out beyond the limits of what right now is a reasonably well-defined geographical and social profile.
For my money, the economy will be the clincher. The wider and deeper the hardship, the more effective the extreme right tactic of identifying resentments and providing scapegoats.


StevenAttewell 06.10.09 at 12:51 am

“This doesn’t bode well for your arguments against those like Alex, ejh etc. who think the Labour Party is dead.”

Actually I think it’s a very good piece of evidence in that regard. All of these people – although “Over 50,000 people volunteered for our online campaign and 1,500 people donated….5,000 people took part in the on-the-ground campaigns” is rather small potatoes by American standards of political activism – are not working inside the Labour Party, even though I’m guessing that an explicitly anti-fascist organization is at least close to social democratic in ideology. They’re outside, doing their own thing trying to defeat the BNP but not trying to actively elect someone else.


Phil 06.10.09 at 3:05 pm

All of these people … are not working inside the Labour Party, even though I’m guessing that an explicitly anti-fascist organization is at least close to social democratic in ideology.

a) Anti-fascism has nothing to do with social democracy. Tories and UKIP members can declare themselves to be anti-fascists & would be warmly welcomed. The broader the coalition, the better.

b) The Labour Party has nothing to do with social democracy and hasn’t done for some time.

c) Even if thousands of social democrats did join the Labour Party, they’d find that there are no mechanisms for members to change Labour Party policy. The levers have all been removed.

d) Your own inspirational story seems to be all about rallying around one leadership candidate or another – not so much “reclaim the party” as “vote Dean/Edwards/Kucinich/Kerry/Obama and hope for the best”. It sounds as if you’re starting from a lower point than we are in terms of party democracy as well as party policy.


StevenAttewell 06.10.09 at 3:37 pm

a. Well, considering that Searchlight grew out of a magazine founded by two Labour MPs, its publisher and editor both came out of the CP, I’m going to guess that the bulk of its membership is left of center.
b. All the more reason to take it over then.
c. Here, I disagree. Mechanisms include taking over the constituency parties (thus gaining a foothold in the Conference, the Exec Committee, the Policy Forum, and potentially the PLP if you’re in a Labour majority area), allying with the affiliated unions or the socialist societies or the Cooperative Party, etc. There are only 200k members of the entire Labour Party – if just Searchlight moved within the party, that’s 25% of their current membership. Unless I’m missing something.
d. If that’s how the story came off, I mis-communicated – the campaign is always a vehicle for party politics. This is especially the case, given that the party’s nominee becomes the master of the party’s political committee, and controls who heads the DNC, etc. Historically speaking, you can think of the followers of Eugene McCarthy, RFK, and George McGovern who pushed through reforms to the party nominating procedure, mandated more participation for women, youth, and minorities, and established midterm conferences; the way in which the Rainbow Coalition was both a nomination campaign and a social justice movement; the way in which the Howard Dean campaign was really more about the campaign than the candidate (“you have the power!” as the slogan went), and the subsequent call by Dean for progressives to take over the Democratic Party, focused around the 50-State Strategy, and the peculiar nature of the Obama campaign as a political organization. I would also add that in the last two years, I’ve joined my Democratic Party’s county central committee, helped to endorse candidates, draft local platforms, served as a delegate to the state convention – I very much see my political trajectory as inside the party more than inside campaigns.


ejh 06.10.09 at 4:01 pm

Don’t mind ejh and dsquared….. they’re just sour because their dream of the British as a noble, mildly left-wing but occasionally quaintly racist people has suddenly run into the nightmare that is the reality of British civil life.



Phil 06.10.09 at 4:07 pm

a) Searchlight isn’t a membership organisation, and neither is Hope Not Hate (their current anti-BNP campaign, & the one which sparked off your comment). More to the point, it would be massively, hugely, absurdly counter-productive for an anti-fascist organisation to become exclusively associated with any political party – Labour included – for precisely the reason I gave.

c) Here, you’re wrong. Constituency parties don’t have anything like the power they used to have, and they very specifically don’t have any power against the hierarchy: Conference resolutions aren’t binding and it’s not possible to get anything through the Policy Forum without support from the existing leadership.

d) It still sounds very much as if the changing of the guard at leadership level is what opens up opportunities for participation. Then again, that pattern’s hardly unknown in the Labour Party (see Benn/Heffer).


StevenAttewell 06.10.09 at 5:39 pm

a. Fair enough, but the overall point I was making is this – activists on the Left are working outside the Labour Party and are not seeking to make change through winning a majority government of the left/center-left. What does it say that the people attracted to anti-BNP political work don’t even consider the Party road?
c. Constituency parties don’t nominate candidates for parliament? The Conference doesn’t elect the Party leader? Please explain.
d. True, the point is still there though – activists in the American left/center-left by and large work through the Democratic Party, and seek to influence its internal politics and policy positions. That doesn’t seem to be the case in the U.K.


ejh 06.10.09 at 7:19 pm

Constituency parties don’t nominate candidates for parliament? The Conference doesn’t elect the Party leader? Please explain

There’s an electoral college which elects the Party leader: partly the unions, partly the MPs and partly, indeed, the constituency parties. So they have a say. However, in order to stand a candidate has to be backed by an extraordinary large proportion of MPs, a device deliberately devised to prevent anything untoward happening like the local parties having any influence.

Yes of course constituency parties can and do nominate their own candidates: but not only are they subject to central vetting (which of course removes anybody of any guts or interests) but, at byelections or close to general elections, when a choice needs to be made swiftly, the central office can and does parachute in a candidate of their own choice, almost inevitably a grotesque.

It’s hard, perhaps, to get over at a distance how little point there is being a member of the Labour Party. But there’s not much.

What does it say that the people attracted to anti-BNP political work don’t even consider the Party road?

It says that over the past fifteen or twenty years, the Labour Party has systematically pursued policies that are antipathetic to what such people tend to believe and that it has systematically removed such people from any influence within its own ranks and that over that period, almost all the worthwhile people have left the party in disgust and despair. It also says that over the fifteen or twenty years prior to that, people tried really very hard to make something of the Labour Party and, in the end, it all came to ruins. (Thirty, or nearly thirty years ago, almost everybody was in the party.) So they’re not really very receptive to the idea either that there’s any point to it, or that they have some responsibility to try all over again.


sg 06.10.09 at 7:21 pm

sorry ejh, I think I misread your comments for snark. As you were.

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