Nosemonkey has a nice post on the aftermath of the smoking ban in England
Frateseraphino has a brilliant piece on how the left has ended up hoping for defeat in Iraq
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.
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.
(hat tip: Gus)
“The Popular Left”, by Ms. Kok
Just heard PM’s interview on Radio4. An issue came up which already came up yesterday in the Commons; an issue of responsibility. Let us suppose that terrorism (or attacks against westerns, or whatever) has increased since, say, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Are the US and UK Government responsible for that, given that their invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was deliberate and intentional? Blair has a good answer to that: look (as he always, annoyingly, starts his answers), we can’t be responsible for the actions of others. And this is true. Responsibility is not causally transitive. So even if it made sense to say that the decision of the UK Government to invade Iraq caused the terrorist’s decision to blow up tube trains in London (and it isn’t at all clear what it means for one’s action to cause another’s action, given that the former, supposedly, was not sufficient to bring about the latter, otherwise the latter would not be an action), that does not mean that the UK Government is responsible for those trains being blown up; it is only who blew them up that is responsible. So that the counterfactual ‘the London trains would have not been blown up if the Government had not invaded Iraq’, even if true, would not bring with it responsibility for the Government. But there are at least to replies to Blair’s answer which, unfortunately, John (who fancies himself a bit too much to be a good interviewer) did not put to the PM: firstly, responsibility comes in if the government could have prevented what happened (but if the counterfactual is true, wouldn’t not invading Iraq have been a way to prevent the attacks? I guess the issue is whether you can do counterfactuals with people’s intentions and actions; and still, even then, it’s not clear that they would carry any responsibility). Secondly, there is an issue of prediction: because it is the Government’s responsibility to try and predict threats, it the Government could have predicted the threat, then, even though it cannot be responsible for someone else’s action, it would still be responsible for not having predicted someone else’s actions, which resulted in the attacks. In this latter case, both who blew up the trains and the Government would be responsible for the people who died on 7/7, because both who blew up the trains and the Government could and should have prevented what happened.