Will Gordon Brown ruin Labour forever?

The rebels failed to amount to anything at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting; the reshuffle has settled the shifts; Mandy is happy, the Miliband’s are happy; Polly Toynbee is furious; the James Purnell story on Guido Fawkes is probably bollocks; he probably helped keep Brown from drowning; Alan Johnson has not ruined his chances of being leader by looking like he wants it too much, and Brown lives to see another day.

So we rebels who hoped Compass would help direct Brown to the door have to ask ourselves the question; is the question of leadership change big enough to collapse the party (see David Aaronovitch’s intervention) or will the party suffer as a consequence of rebel silence?

In other words, should the rebels bite their lips to save the party, or will this complacency lead to defeat beyond repair.

Nick Cohen offered up some scary details at the weekend, and though rather exaggerated, do outline the very worst case scenrio for the Labour Party if the wrong decision is to be taken. He says;

“The banking crash led to recession, which led to a popular fury at the often minor, but still telling, corruptions of MPs who were fiddling expenses while the financial system boomed and bust. That anger has now concentrated on the shattered Brown administration, whose manifest failings could destroy Labour’s chances of winning another election – maybe forever, if the Liberal Democrats and Greens take over what remains of the centre-left.”

Roy Hattersley reminded us elsewhere that Labour should re-deliver its social democracy promises, just as Europe reminded us that the left’s chance to prosper (during an economic crisis) had failed.

But this is by far not a call for the left to give up, and I back Hattersley’s sentiment. The point remains; is Gordon Brown doing the right thing for the greater good by staying, if the worst that could happen come next election is that Labour slip into fourth place, behind the BNP, forever more?

The consequences of Brown staying on are far greater than an election defeat in 2010, and so the question is on: will the (definitely disavowed gesture of) silence by the rebels be a gesture that returns to haunt them in the future?


Where Miliband is short on Europe

David Miliband, in an article to complement a debate he has taken part in tonight with the Fabian Society, has taken on the Tories and David Cameron over Europe.

The article does present well due finger pointing at Cameron’s decision to engage with, among many others, Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom Party.

On other issues, Miliband assaults Cameron on “support[ing] overseas development – but denounc[ing] the Lisbon treaty’s shift to majority voting that will make it faster and more efficient.”

He buries his knife by saying what Labour will deliver, where the Tories will dwindle: “The EU needs support and reform through engagement.”

Myself, I agree with the latter – that we need to engage with the EU and introduce our take on it, but the former point made me confused. I’m certainly not coming from Cameron’s camp, but its not denouncing the Lisbon treaty’s shift that gets me, but rather the inkling that Lisbon treaty will not be doing anything to curb the anti-union, pro-social dumping ideology that surrounds it.

Obviously, the engagement element of Miliband’s sentiment seems to work well, to use our MEP’s to send a message of worker’s rights to Europe, but not only do I see no chance of this judging by European election polls, also blindly buying into any “shift” the Lisbon treaty forges is just as boneheaded.

Appearing in tomorrow’s Guardian, along with Miliband’s article, will be a one time Miliband supporter (who did her bit to ruin his chances of becoming Prime Minister by shouting, and might just join another emerging trend for the LibDems at Miliband’s, and Labour’s, expense) Polly Toynbee spelling out her reasons why we shouldn’t listen to David Miliband anymore, and vote for the Liberal Democrats in Europe (although this is not full scale support, as some seem to be confused about).

She suggests that a vote for Lib Dems on issues regarding Europe is a vote for consistency, but is no one on the left worried about a consistent dismissal of those things once the territory of the Labour Party; unions, national industry, free elections and the representation of foreign workers.

The right are ill-qualified for the fight against the xenophobes

It has emerged that 27% of voters plan to ‘send westminster a message’ by voting for a fringe party, the Guardian reports today (drawn from a poll of 1,010 adults between 20-21 May).

Though it seems the BNP vote will only garner 1%, some 4% less than the last European elections in 2004 (though as I’ve said before, and the article reiterated, voting intentions are not always so reliable for the xenophobic BNP). Ukip are down from 16% in 2004 to 10% on the voting intentions (perhaps their vote has been affected by the expenses scandals after all).

Two runners hoping to capitalise in on anti-Labour sentiment, have today been involved in in-party dispute’s over public perception. David Cameron of the T0ries, in the last 48 hours, has had to give two tellings off to MP’s for “unnacceptable comments”. Not racist comments, or slurs, but hubristic, nob-headed comments.

The Guardian‘s report notes;

“David Cameron today rebuked the Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries after she accused the Telegraph of coming close to a “McCarthyite witch-hunt” with its disclosures of MPs’ expenses claims.

The Conservative leader also made it clear that party grandee Anthony Steen would have the whip withdrawn “so fast his feet won’t touch the ground” if he continued making “unacceptable comments”.

Yesterday, Steen claimed he was the victim of “jealousy” among his Devon constituents, who he said were envious of his large house.

“I gave him a very clear instruction after that interview – one more squeak like that and he will have the whip taken away from him so fast his feet won’t touch the ground,” Cameron told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One. “It was a completely unacceptable interview,”

(see also Liberal Conspiracy‘s version of the events)

The second party which has (also!) had yet another setback in its false guise of moderate modification is the BNP.

The Mirror informed that;

“A BNP candidate could be deselected for posting offensive comments online.

Eddy O’Sullivan, the party’s Salford organiser, wrote on his Facebook profile: “W**s go home,” adding, “They are nice people, ‘oh yeah,’ but can they not be nice people in the f***ing Congo or… bongo land or whatever?”

Mr O’Sullivan, 49, standing with party leader Nick Griffin in the European election for the North West region, said: “It was supposed to be a private conversation. I also may have had a drink at the time. I don’t believe those comments are racist.”

Clive Jefferson, BNP North West organiser, said if the allegations were proved Mr O’Sullivan would be suspended.

Deputy party leader Simon Darby said: “We will take disciplinary action if we find he has posted the comments.”

Now that really is rich coming from Simon Darby, who was photographed by Searchlight recently being greeted with fascist salutes by Roberto Fiore’s Forza Nuova party in Italy. One would choose their friends more wisely (advice extended to Cameron after mvoing his party to non-attached in Europe along with the likes of Le Pen and the Polish Law and Justice party).

These things are clearly embarrassing for the two parties mentioned here, for they show a presence of an image they would really rather keep quiet. For the Tories, I really believe that David Cameron really believes he is the new modern times Tory, when in actual fact, and despite their elections slogan, they are more of the same. The BNP, however, are desparately trying to seem way more with the times than they actually are (and unsuccessfully). It can be seen quite clearly from the recent amendments made to their manifesto, constantly redefining their ideas of what it is to be British, and their language and conduct entries. Change the voter’s mind, and dupe them later.

To really get under the skin of the BNP in the coming weeks, then months, and years to come, critics must do more to understand their warped appeals to moderation.

Which is why it should not be left down to some comic Tories who have started casually calling the BNP a far-left party – which also tainted some of Tim Montgomerie’s good work. See also Daniel Hannan’s recent blog entry and Harry Phibb’s unbelievable trite, with absurdities like this;

“What Conservatives can add to this critique is something that the left can never admit: Nazism and communism are ideological twins. The BNP is in fact an extreme leftwing outfit. It wishes individual liberty to be sacrificed to state control. It seeks the overthrow of capitalism, and rages against profit and speculators. It wishes to institute a siege economy with protectionism and the nationalisation of foreign-owned companies. In this it is being consistent to its founding inspiration. Hitler nationalised the banks and insurance companies, the economy was rigidly centrally planned, there was an extensive programme of public works, independent schools were banned.

How does he, then, define the far-right – and presumably in whatever way he does define it, he must be in it if everyone right of the Tories are socialist by default. These articles, in spite of their aims, are ample evidence that many respected commentators are ill-qualified to tackle a dangerous element rearing its ugly head in our democracy.

But unsurprisingly none of these party failures have restored any faith in Labour (due to their own party failures). Which is why I was suprised to read this;

“The Labour Party continues to enjoy a healthy lead at the polls according to the European Parliament election forecast even if its share of the vote has dropped over the past two weeks.”

But unfortunately, this article is taken from Times of Malta. At home some of our most respected commentators are still insisting on a Labour Party shake-up to end all shake-ups. Polly Toynbee rejects this flimsy word “reshuffle” for the heavier handed “mass exile“. And although it is well established that the European/ Local Elections are set to look pretty miserable for Labour, there some clean hands in that party (see here for the note on Chris Mullin, and here for Shiraz Socialist’s report on the Labour Party worth fighting for) and the general elections do not have to be half as miserable.

And on an optimistic note, all is not lost on British humanity, for our next generation are already showing a hint of rebellion in Loughton, Essex, where local school children have revolted and instigated a school walk out on account of newly installed CCTV cameras in classrooms. Bite the Flower!

Of rumours and reshuffling

Regarding Brown’s comments on Hazel Blears, it was going to be jolly difficult playing down the rumours that there was tactical bitterness between the two; Blears criticising the YouTube performance, Brown responding by highlighting Blears’ unacceptable expenses claims.

Harder still will be playing those rumours down now that Brown has defended two other cabinet ministers James Purnell and Geoff Hoon, whose abuses seem rather identical, according to Toby Helm.

He added: “Were Hoon and Purnell less guilty because they had not slagged Brown off the weekend before the expenses revelations started to emerge (as Blears had done)?”

The argument from Hoon’s people, as the blog entry continues, is that there was no confusion as to which was the first and second home to the authorities, whereas with Blears there had been.

With ongoing uproar surrounding the expenses scandal – which claimed its first Labour Member of Parliament, Wirral South’s Ben Chapman, today – the bar with which we, the public, now judge abuse has been lowered since MP’s left, right and centre have been highlighted (perhaps Polly Toynbee has hit the nail on the head, calling for a system of fewer MP’s, although cutting MP’s in half might have its own set of attached abuses). Consistency – in this case Hoon’s – counts for so much more nowadays.

To Helm’s question What’s the difference between Hazel Blears and James Purnell? the answer seems to be not much by everyday standards, but in our new set of parliamentary rules, Hoon comes up trumps.

Although Hoon, like Blears, is not completely safe from a reshuffling. In fact they are both noted as most vulnerable.

Ed Balls is likely to be shifted, too. And plans for Alan Johnson to take a role as party spokesman will keep leftwingers appeased.

Peter Mandelson has come out in support of David Miliband’s continuation as Foreign Secretary – a long time sought after role for Mandy.

Miliband’s upkeep of US backing has today brokered further loyalty when addressing the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. His tone was apologetic when noting that “the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, aroused a sense of bitterness, distrust and resentment. When people hear about Britain, too often they think of these things.”

Gracing his presence in the dialogues with Pakistan, announcements of a new China and the chuminess with the US, Miliband’s job is secured. And the rest of the world is spared our privatisation-fetishist PM (Peter Mandelson, that is).

Second most important break-up

I suppose in some ways I’m overjoyed to hear about the Peter Andre/ Jordon break-up, it does mean that the break-up of the Labour Party could be only the second most important this year. Although let us get one thing clear, though David Miliband has been accused before (and, to be sure, after Tim Shipman’s article for the (sick) Daily Mail today will be accused again) he will not be fronting a rebellion. Absolutely not. He realises that if his eyes are on the prize (which, okay, they obviously are) then a pre-2010 rebellion, let alone a post 4 June rebellion, would hurt his chances. Those likely to support Miliband’s leadership will most likely be the ones who call for unity.

One commentator who may well support an eventual Miliband leadership, but who will certainly moan and create a fuss (if she hasn’t, in anticipation done so already) about an Alan Johnson leadership is Anne Perkins, leader writer for the Guardian. In her article today, pouring scorn on Polly Toynbee’s call for a Labour plot, she notes that “[s]acking the prime minister with no sensible way of replacing him …would not rescue the party or the government” for the reason that “[w]hat this government needs to do is go home and prepare for opposition.”

Surely Perkins doesn’t mean prepare for an opposition victory. But I will say that if we don’t take heed of what Toynbee has said, prepare for an opposition government is what we shall have to do. Has Perkins seen the popularity polls? But change should not be just about polls, Brown’s inability to render a truly leftwards shift is as good a reason as any.

And Perkins’ wholesale dismissal of Alan Johnson on the basis that, in her words, “he has been in government for a long time, with … a record of studious loyalty” is not a good enough reason to ignore a prosperous Johnson leadership in the future.

My eggs are in no basket of realistic leader challengers yet, I hasten to add. But we will definitely need another leader to inform the public of the 2.5 million unemployed this summer, provided that Brendan Barber, General Secretary of TUC, has predicted this figure correctly. Moreover, we will surely need another leader to tell the public that something will be done about it, not just the offering of  hypothetical tory-led outcomes.

The long awaited presence of policy by Brown has come, as the Times has rightly noted, a little too late for voters.

The tories of course have one up over Labour on the expenses front, with Cameron calling for serious punishments if his party don’t pay them back (although Harriet Harman has said she has something in the pipeline).

In addition to Cameron himself paying back the £680 he had claimed to have wisteria and vines removed from the chimney of his constituency home, he has said that;

• Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, would repay £7,000 he claimed for furnishing a London property in 2006 before “flipping” the second home designation to a new one in his Surrey Heath constituency.

• Oliver Letwin, who is in charge of the Tories’ general election manifesto, would repay the £2,000 he claimed to replace a leaking pipe under a tennis court.

• Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, would repay £2,600 for home improvements.

• George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, would repay the £440.62 paid to a chauffeur company to drive him from Cheshire to London.

• Alan Duncan, the shadow leader of the Commons, would repay almost £5,000 for gardening expenses.

• Kenneth Clarke, the shadow business secretary, would stop claiming a single person’s discount on one of his council tax bills.

• Francis Maude, Chris Grayling and Theresa Villiers would stop claiming for their second homes in London.

David Willetts would repay £115 charged for electrical services.

Busy David Cameron also gave the Chingford Skinhead a right telling off today, warning him that with his comments on not voting for the main 3 in the european elections, he is treading a very careful path, and that if he slips off that path he could find himself an independent. That is until he joins the party of independence.

Of course, Nigel Farage, leader of the Ukippers welcomed Tebbit’s intervention, and frankly I welcomed this, its going to make backtracking far more difficult for Tebbit.

But an apology for inciting the far-right from him is about as likely as House of Commons speaker Michael Martin’s apology to Kate Hoey, for the “pearls of wisdom” comment.

On the subject of Tebbit, Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, writing for the telegraph today asked us if we could ever imagine Tony Benn urging supporters and members not to vote Labour over nuclear disarmament or Nato. Though Benn, he added, “was hostile to Labour leaders and policies, he never called upon party members to desert their own party.” A lesson we might still cling on to, desparately, in these times of turmoil.

Change, can we believe in?

In Sweden its known as the “Toblerone affair“. In October 2005, the social-democrat Mona-Sahlin – the country’s youngest MP – was looking to replace Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, who had announced his resignation. Only these hopes were dashed when it emerged that Sahlin had used her government credit card to purchase a delightful chocolate snack.

In Sweden tax returns are transparent, and due to Sahlin not paying the money back, her petit crime was revealed (not to mention the private cars, unpaid fines etc etc).

So when apologies are being thrown about left, right and centre – Gordon Brown’s cross-party apology, David Cameron’s umbrella apology, Richard Timney’s porn apology (that cringeworthy video again) – and calls for system change are a symbol of repent, what is it that can change the expenses system?

(I don’t suppose it matters that they may be released early, does it?)

Do we really have to have everything out in the open. Do politicians’ tax returns need to be published?

One thing is for sure, if the tories win the apology game (today the Royal College of Nursing, tomorrow youtube, Wednesday Eastenders – provided its shown on a Wednesday, I don’t know, who cares) and the next General Election, they are still not “pure“, as Michael White in his Guardian blog noted, and the expenses system will still have to change.

As Jeremy Seabrook noted in a recent article,”You don’t have to agree with the British National party to see the legitimacy of its claim to represent those written off by Labour”. Something that “those written off by Labour”, by whom he means the white working class, should not expect to draw great influence from is the class differences in those things MP’s have made expenses claims on. As good as fraudualent claims have been made by both Labour and tory. But if I could for a moment point out that the excessive uses of taxpayer money to pay mortgages on houses that would be sold months after was a tactic used more by tories than Labour MP’s. Some Labour MP’s expenses crimes were rather more trivial than offensive; tampons, porn and 2 toilet seats.

Not to mention that among the lowest claimants were both Labour MP’s and sons of leading socialists; Ed Miliband whose Father was the left wing academic Ralph Miliband, author of The State in a Capitalist Society, and Hilary Benn whose Father needs no introduction. Its class War!

But apologies aside, the situation has escalated calls by many for Brown to either start a new popular war or the more realistic call of leadership change if (or, again realistically, when) the European elections nosedive for Labour. Nowhere has this latter message been more cutting than in Polly Toynbee’s comment today in the Guardian calling for Alan Johnson to take leadership unopposed.

In her knife wielding diatribe she told the world;

“It’s all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits.”

and that

“He may be the best-read prime minister in decades, but his learning seems to hamper instead of illuminate his path […] But then the decisions he takes are too often tactical, not purposeful or strategic. Trident, the third runway or post office privatisation are mere positioning in some illusory business-pleasing ploy, their long-term damage far outweighing one day’s headlines.”

But then there will be those faithful’s that come out in support of pre-election unity, and one of those voices will be the ever grateful Peter Mandelson, who in a recent article, also from the Guardian, asked the electorate to concentrate more on imaganing for a moment how a tory government would have handled the events of the last year.

He elaborates;

“Northern Rock would have been allowed to fail, regardless of the potential costs in lost deposits and financial panic.

There would have been no fiscal stimulus. No VAT cut to generate £8bn-£9bn in retail sales that would not otherwise have occurred. No frontloaded government capital spending to boost construction. No lift for hard-hit car manufacturers. And as for the G20, David Cameron can hardly bear to go near Europe, let alone find his way in the rest of the world.

Instead, a Tory government would have stood aside, seeing the recession, as some shadow ministers have admitted in unguarded moments, as something that must just be allowed to take its course.”

To add to the list of clear advantages Brown’s government has acheived is the new proposals of locally usable criminal assets, allowing local communities to use £4million of criminal assets to pay for local projects.

Also the new deal with China’s stock exchange will help secure some political weight on an international level, but this could all become deadweight if the 4th of June sends a scathing message.

Will Polly Tyonbee be proved right about leadership change on the 5th of June, who will come to Brown’s support and who will come out yelling. Watch this space.