Alan Milburn, Alex Salmond, Blairites, Britain, Charles Clarke, general elections, gordon brown, IRA, Iraq, John McDonnell, labour leadership, Labour Leadership Contest, Labour Party, Michael Meacher, New Labour, Politics, Scotland, SNP, socialism, the left, Tony Blair

…running out…

When Meacher pulled out on Monday, I thought that the leadership contest was on. I was wrong. It is now Wednesday evening, and it is looking increasingly likely that John McDonnell will not get the required 45 nominations. At 6pm, he is still 16 short, and there are only 16 MPs that have still to declare (among those, Charles Clarke and Frank Field): Brown has 307 against McDonnell’s 29.

UPDATE: it’s over. Brown’s got 308 and McDonnell has conceded defeat. This is a sad day for British democracy.

Some considerations on this development: I was expecting Brown not only to let McDonnell run, but possibly to encourage a challenge. Apparently he hasn’t done so. Two possibilities: Brown is indifferent on whether there will be a contest or not because, we can only guess, he has polls telling him that the public won’t mind either way. Labour’s support might be falling, but the fall won’t be accelerated – or so the polls might predict – by a ‘coronation’. If such polls existed, and were accurate, I would be surprised. It definitely wouldn’t be good news for British democracy.

Alternatively, Brown might be actively looking to avoid a contest. Maybe he thinks that McDonnell’s support among unions and party members would be high enough to put him in an uncomfortable situation. The next government might then be forced into acknowledging so much support for Old Labour in its policies, if not in its composition. If this latter scenario is anywhere near the truth, then all the more reason for wanting a contest; because if Brown’s fears are justified, then the Chancellor is effectively silencing his own electorate by stopping McDonnell. And that can’t be good for politics; it can’t be good for Britain; it can’t be good for Labour’s chances at the next elections; and therefore, in the end, it can’t be good for Brown (caveat: it might be that Brown has convinced himself that he will lose at the next general elections, and that therefore he wants to make the most of his time in government. In that case, stopping McDonnell might make sense. But I don’t believe that Labour doesn’t have chances coming 2009, nor do I believe that Brown believes that).

Another interesting thing is that Milburn is supporting Brown, while Clarke hasn’t announced yet. It might be that the former Home Secretary is waiting to see McDonnell’s numbers, and that he is only willing to nominate him if that will turn out to be necessary for a contest. Indeed, McDonnell is miles away from Clarke, but my enemy’s enemy… On the other hand, it might be that Blairites want Brown to lose at the next general elections, and so are promoting a ‘coronation’ – see Milburn’s and Byers’ support. Lots of people would like to think that the Blairites are willing to do anything to screw Brown, but I would be very surprised if that included putting their own political careers and salaries at risk – as inevitably they would do by promoting Labour’s defeat next time around.

One final remark: if we take the way in which MPs are nominating seriously, from a political point of view that is, then we might have to conclude that the kind of leftism represented by John McDonnell is really no longer at home within the Labour Party. And this would have to be added to Blair’s legacy: “I left a Party where socialists couldn’t even get enough nominations to stand for leader”. In this respect, it is indeed a shame that to represent the left is someone which such ideological foreign policy ideas such as McDonnell (see IRA+Iraq).

Oh, and Alex Salmond is the new First Minister of Scotland.

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2008 presidential elections, Blairites, Britain, David Miliband, general elections, gordon brown, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Iraq, John McDonnell, John Reid, labour leadership, Labour Leadership Contest, Labour Party, New Labour, Politics, Scotland, SNP, Tony Blair

Brown vs McDonnell

Brown got what he wanted (or, anyway, what he should have wanted): a contender who cannot win, John McDonnell. This is a much better outcome than no contender at all, which would have looked bad and it would have reduced Brown’s and Labour’s chances at the next general elections even further. It is also better than a Blairite contender with a chance, namely Miliband. Even if Brown would have defeated Miliband, which is probable, that kind of contest might have weakened New Labour; and, in the attempt to distance himself from Miliband, Brown would have probably lost a lot of the votes that will decide the next election. The only outcome which would have probably been better for Brown than McDonnell would have been an unelectable Blairite like Reid – who was wise enough to desist from his heroic journey of self-sacrifice.

McDonnell’s good for Brown: he will provide the Chancellor with a platform to discuss Iraq, and, if Brown cares to, that will be a chance to distance himself from Blair’s foreign policy. But Brown might discover that the only meaningful way to counter McDonnell’s anti-war rhetoric is to stick with Blair’s legacy of liberal interventionism: that would, indeed, be an interesting development. Otherwise Brown might end up in the kind of middle-ground trouble that Hillary’s in across the pond for not apologising over voting for the war.

Also, while the parliamentary vote is quite obvious, and the unions’ vote can be expected, it’ll be important to see how the popular vote goes: if McDonnell doesn’t do better there than in the parliamentary vote, then a lot of the anti-NewLabour rhetoric will have to go. There has been a lot of talk of New Labour losing votes on the left (the SNP in Scotland could be an example): this is a good time to verify that theory.

It might be objected that the kind of votes that New Labour has lost on the left aren’t votes of Labour Party activists and members. But that’s not how it is often put: people tend to say that, in the pursuit of Middle England, Labour has alienated some of its core vote. If none of that goes to McDonnell, then either New Labour has actually interpreted its core vote better than most commentators, or it has alienated it so much that people have left the party altogether.

UPDATE: it looks as though we should have waited before commenting on McDonnell’s challenge to Brown. The left-winger is still 18 (some say 16) nominations short of the required 45. He’s got until tomorrow noon.

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BBC, Britain, general elections, gordon brown, labour leadership, Labour Leadership Contest, Labour Party, Margaret Beckett, New Labour, Politics, Rory Bremner, Sunday AM

embarrassingly Gordon

Watch Brown’s reaction to Bremner’s sketch yesterday on Sunday AM. It’s a perfect example of the kind of awkwardness that might very well cost Brown the next election. He must have been told by his aides not to be shy about the fact that Bremner once fooled Margaret Beckett into thinking she was actually speaking with the Chancellor. So Brown is eager to mention the anecdote, but makes a meal of it: he tries to mention it a first time, but nobody is interested, so he gives up half way through. Then Gordon tries again, this time goes through with it, but it’s too late, and again no one’s interested, no one laughs. He was supposed to give the impression that he is not afraid to talk about embarrassing things. But he only succeeded in once again confirming the common-place that he is an embarrassment in public.

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Britain, gordon brown, labour leadership, Labour Leadership Contest, Labour Party, mainstream media, Martin Kettle, old media, Politics, The Guardian

The Selfreferential Guardian

In Saturday’s Guardian, Martin Kettle, commenting Brown’s campaign launch, asks

Will the lost Guardian-reading Labour voter really be as enthralled as Brown hopes at the prospect of greater scrutiny powers for MPs?

Now, the British electorate is composed of almost 50million voters, half of which are active, and the Guardian sells 366,000 copies (*), a good chunk of which are read by people who still vote Labour and by people who never voted Labour. Should we really assess Brown’s speech by whether it has appealed to the lost Guardian-reading Labour voters?

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Britain, Conservatives, democracy, general elections, gordon brown, House of Commons, labour leadership, Labour Leadership Contest, Labour Party, LibDems, Politics, The Guardian, Tony Blair

We, the people, are owed nothing less than a general election

There is something seriously distasteful about the way in which Gordon Brown has opened his Labour leadership campaign. He is not campaigning for a general election; he is not campaigning to become Prime Minister. He is, only, campaigning to become the leader of the Labour Party. So Brown should really spare as statements like the following:

I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place (*)

It is only a consequence of the system, and an unwelcome one, that, by becoming leader of the Labour Party, he shall also succeed Blair as this country’s next Prime Minister. Both the LibDems and the Tories have called for a general election when Blair goes. Neither believes in it, nor do they try to hide the fact that they don’t really want it either. The LibDems are shuttered, and they need time to pull themselves together. Possibly under a different leader. The Tories are on the rise, but they appear to think that they need more time to rise high enough to beat Labour. And the Scottish Elections results confirm that: Labour is so far ahead that it takes huge advantages in the polls to gain tiny advantages in the number of seats (it’s not just partial PR).

But this is not the point: the other parties call for a general election because they know they ought to; and they ought to because it is undeniably the fairest way of deciding Blair’s successor. The interesting thing is that Brown’s only argument for succeeding Blair without asking the electorate is that it has happened before – it happened with Major, for example. Now, it’s true that, in this country, in the absence of a constitution, past occurrences carry legitimacy. But they can only do so if they were themselves legitimate. In short, if there is any reason for thinking that a general election isn’t necessary. And Brown hasn’t provided any reason aside from the fact that is has happened before.

It could be proposed that the reason is the fact that the present Parliament has been elected to serve a full term, and that therefore, until that term expires, the present Parliament has the authority to elect the new Prime Minister. This is true; but it is also true that the present Parliament has been elected on the understanding the Tony Blair would himself serve a full term. Since that arrangement with the electorate has not been respected, the electorate is now due a general election.

But we aren’t gonna get a general election. And it is disgraceful that Brown is shamelessly campaigning to become Prime Minister. It is only the Labour Party that will have a say – not the country. So Brown should only appeal to the Labour Party, because the country is completely powerless. And here there is another detail of paramount importance: even if one accepted the previous argument about the legitimacy of the present Parliament, and their right, bestowed upon them by the people, to elect the new Prime Minister, it is indeed not the Parliament that will elect the new Prime Minister. It is the Labour Parliamentary Party, the Labour membership, and the unions. The latter two, evidently, don’t share the right that the MPs might have if one accepts the previous argument, which I don’t.

In short, we ain’t gonna get a general election – we’ll live with that even though it ain’t just nor fair. But at least Brown could show some respect for this country’s democratic system by campaigning, only, for the Labour leadership. One final point: it would also be a good way to distance himself from the Blair years if Brown gave the impression, from the outset, that he understood the difference between the Labour Party and this country’s government. They have been one and the same for the last decade, but they are two distinct institutions. And when a party begins to forget that, then it is time for that party to go – opposition is a very good cure for that kind of allucination.

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Bobby Sands, Britain, gordon brown, IRA, John McDonnell, labour leadership, Labour Leadership Contest, Labour Party, Michael Meacher, Politics, pop-leftism, socialism, Terrorism, the left

Who is John McDonnell MP?

John McDonnell is one of two left-wing Labour MPs who have declared their intention to stand against Brown for the Labour Party Leadership. On Monday, it will be announced if it is going to be McDonnell or Michael Meacher to challenge Brown.

I’m no fan of Gordon Brown. Also, I think that a contest, since they are not going to give us a general election – which they should – is better than a coronation. So I’m glad that someone is standing against Brown – even though they haven’t got a chance.

But now I discover that this McDonnell, who used to work with Ken Livingstone, is a shameless fan of the IRA. In 2003, McDonnell said the following while celebrating Bobby Sands:

It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA.

Contacted later by the Sun, McDonnell stood by his words:

The deaths of innocent civilians in IRA attacks is a real tragedy, but it was as a result of British occupation in Ireland,” he told the tabloid. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands we now have a peace process.

The usual story with these bloody so-called socialists. One discovers how stupid and rotten they are even before having the chance to look into their social policies. So now, if McDonnell is indeed the left-wing candidate, we’ll have to support Brown. Who would have ever thought!

UPDATE: here‘s the Sun’s piece that I refer to in the post (hat tip: korova)

UPDATE 2: here McDonnell explained his remarks, saying, among other things:

Irish republicans have to face the fact that the use of violence has resulted in unforgivable atrocities. No cause is worth the loss of a child’s life. No amount of political theory will justify what has been perpetrated on the victims of the bombing campaigns.

It appears that McDonnell didn’t mean to justify the armed struggle, but that he only meant to emphasise the supposed positive contribution of the armed struggle towards the improvement of the situation in Northern Ireland. As it happens, the former claim is often hidden behind the latter. That’s because no one thinks (or at least ever says) that killing innocent people is a good thing: the question is rather whether one thinks that the IRA should have done that to achieve its aims. We think not. What does McDonnell think?

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Alan Milburn, Blairites, Britain, Charles Clarke, David Miliband, gordon brown, John Reid, labour leadership, Labour Party, New Labour, Politics, Tony Blair

prime-minister-in-waiting

David Miliband said yesterday that Brown is “an excellent prime minister in waiting”. Of course, we don’t mind Gordon as prime minister in waiting either. He has actually been the source of much entertainment as prime minister in waiting over the past decade. So much so that we hereby propose that the next labour government creates the post of prime-minister-in-waiting; they already have by far the best man for the job this side of Pluto (with the post comes a stately home, and a willing secretary).

Needless to say, then, Miliband hasn’t answered the real question: will Brown be an excellent Prime Minister?

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