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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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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9/11, Britain, China, Cold War, Conservatives, House of Commons, Iran, New Labour, North Korea, nuclear deterrence, Politics, Russia, Scotland, scottish independence, SNP, Terrorism, Trident, WMD

The unspeakable case for nuclear deterrence

The only argument for nuclear deterrence that could be heard today in the Commons, from both New Labour and the Conservatives, was that the world’s future cannot be predicted; and that, in the absence of safe predictions over future threats, we must keep our nuclear weapons, just in case. This is, by the way, an admission that nuclear weapons, today, are not doing any deterrence. And it is, therefore, an admission that, today, nuclear weapons are not deterring North Korea, for example.

Now, not only this is a bad argument; this, actually, is no argument at all. Because it does not point to anything as the justification of nuclear deterrence. To justify nuclear deterrence, as to justify anything, we must point to something: in this case, we must point to, if not actual, at least possible threats. If there are no possible threats to point to, than there is no justification for nuclear deterrence. But possible threats are not even enough: being attacked from outer space is a possible threat, but in the absence of any reasons for thinking that this might actually happen, this possible threat does not constitute a justification for nuclear deterrence (if the government does indeed think that this is a reason to keep Trident, let us hear it).

So whoever cares to justify nuclear deterrence, must point to reasons for thinking that those threats might materialize. Unfortunately the government is not in the position to name any possible future threat that we have reason to think might materialize; because that would unsettle its international relations. The government, for example, cannot mention any reasons for thinking that, 50 years down the line, China might turn nasty. So, in short, the government is not in a position to justify nuclear deterrence. Make of it what you like: it might be that the government must have the right, in the interest of its people, not to make necessary claims that would, though, unsettle its relations with the international community. Or it might be that, in the absence of a public justification to Parliament of nuclear deterrence, the government is asking the Commons to vote on an unjustified motion – and that Parliament should never vote for an unjustified motion.

But the Conservatives, which are using the same arguments as the government, are not in that delicate position. The Conservatives can, therefore, name their reasons; they therefore ought to: let us hear them!

UPDATE: MPs voted to renew Trident, 409 to 161, majority 248. According to The Guardian, around 85 Labour MPs voted against the Government.

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