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.