Friday, July 25, 2008

Should Gordon Brown go now?

Luke Akehurst thinks not:

“Last night's result was very, very bad. But it actually just confirms what we already knew about the current state of public opinion - people are hurting economically, they are angry, and rightly the Government has to take responsibility for the state of the economy. If we sort it out and the economy recovers before the General Election we will likewise take the credit. I don't think it's all about Gordon. I think it's all about rising prices and the credit crunch.

Switching leader might achieve something if we had a British Barack Obama waiting in the wings. But we don't - we have a bunch of people who are either not quite yet ready for the top job, or are just as much associated with eleven years in power as Brown is. The PM we've got, for any flaws he has, is the best one Labour has available.”

Neither does Conor Ryan. But Conor identifies the hole in Labour's communications. The need for a Blair-esque narrative:
“That's where the big change is needed. Tony Blair was very good at developing and disseminating a clear political narrative. With Gordon Brown, there is no such narrative, so nobody from the commentariat to the common voter can understand what's happening. This failure may owe something to the schizophrenic attempt to create novelty in the first months of Brown's tenure. If so, the time for real clarity is overdue. That means selecting half a dozen very clear goals for the government, on which Brown devotes most of his energy.”

It would be a reasonable point to make, I think, that - while the opinion polls showed an increasing rejection of Blair himself towards the end, that it was a rejection of the man, rather than his communications approach.

Paul Anderson, on the other hand, has been saying Brown should go for a while. But his immediate reaction to last night's defeat is to highlight Labour's long-standing complacency in it's heartlands:
"I remember reports of safe Labour constituencies in Glasgow with tiny inactive Labour parties 30 years ago. The story of the sitting MP who tells the keen raw recruit: "Don't worry about canvassing round here, laddie. We put out an election statement then I do a tour on polling day in a loudspeaker car," might well be apocryphal, but it's not far from the truth as it has been most of the time for several decades: Labour's desperate high-profile campaigning efforts in Glasgow East were notable largely because they contrasted so dramatically with the norm."

This, I think, highlights a bigger gap between the Tories and Labour. Labour has - traditionally - not been hugely interactive. The Tories have always had the benefit of being more relaxed in the way they communicate.

In our defence, we've always had a good deal more to contend with than the Tories. We are a marriage of a tiny but hugely influential group of metropolitan Fabians and a generally materialistic core working class vote. To complicate things, due to relationship between that core vote and it's 'official spokespeople' - the trade union movement, their political weight - that which is applied by a pressure group - has increasingly disengaged with policy, preferring occasional disconnected political interventions.

The cement in the Labour Party has always been it's 'fixers'. Look at the CVs of most senior Labour parliamentarians if you don't believe me. The energy Labour has to devote to this task is routinely ignored and misunderstood. Labour's hidden wiring is it's tough diplomats - the ones that can do Beer and Sandwiches with the unions while being able to share a glass of wine with The Great And Good.

A while ago, I had a post here about how the Tories seem to be hardwired for a surefooted (if technically inconsistent, and fundamentally dishonest) engagement in public life. There is nothing uneasy about the Tory alliance by comparison to Labour.

Labour, on the other hand, will always be nervous and clunky in places that the Tories can swashbuckle. It could be the case that this makes the Tories the 'natural party of government' and all of the Blairite hubris about changing that with five uninterrupted terms was for nothing. Perhaps we will only ever govern when the Tories spectacularly drop the ball after a long period of Tory rule?

It really does underline the wasted opportunity of the last decade. For all of his achievements, Blair never really believed in political decentralisation. His failure to follow through on regional government, the strengthening of local government or the cementing of bicameralism and cabinet government in Westminster has left us in a position where the Tories will continue to enjoy decades of untrammelled power, punctuated only be short periods of better government when they really balls up (see The Guity Men, the disgraceful governmental incompetence of the early 1960s, the ERM crisis of the mid-1990s).

So, back to the question: Should Brown go now? On reflection, he probably can't. But he needs a challenge. A credible one, from someone who has an interest in rebuilding the party as an interactive conversational entity. One that doesn't only engage with the public in the rigid way that we have done to date.

In an age where politicians come under more scrutiny than ever before, Labour's faith in it's fixers is starting to look very hollow. I believe that there is a workable, credible vision of how politics in the UK can be transformed without too much blood being left on the walls.

One that says: "All of our political structures need mending." One that involves political decentralisation and a reassessment of what the role of politics is. Because we are in a period in which we can't do right for doing wrong, now would be a good time for it to happen.But this is Labour's real problem.

There is nobody near the top of the Labour Party that has ever given any of this much consideration. To the question 'where can this challenge come from?', there really is no answer.


Graycrow said...

“That's where the big change is needed. Tony Blair was very good at developing and disseminating a clear political narrative. With Gordon Brown, there is no such narrative, so nobody from the commentariat to the common voter can understand what's happening."

This is exactly how I would read the situation. With Blair, like it or not, you knew where he stood on any issue. Brown is an enigma, lacking personal charisma.

snowflake5 said...

The point about the poor canvass returns in Glasgow East is spot on. Compare with oxford where the local party are very active on the ground and keep gaining councillors. The message has to go out to constituencies that they must work for victory. It won't just happen. The days of cruising in the slipstream of the new labour machine are gone.

Mike said...

Deborah Orr writes in the Independent :-
"Labour has failed to promote the idea that employers should do more than treat humans as squeezable units of profit. That is the greatest Labour failure."

And that's certainly my view, based on my own experiences. Labour seem to have completely neglected the working man, and the Unions don't appear to be in any position to help. And if we can't get help from a Labour government, we'll never get it from the Tories. Maybe the SNP addressed the working class.

The last ten years have been a wasted opportunity.