For the leader of the Labour Party and our Prime Minister things are terminally frightful, but they are now looking just as bad for the Labour Party as a whole. I have been pondering the consequences of the latest Labour electoral reverse by reading the Coffee House blog, which is now my favourite political (as in who’s-in-who’s-out) blog, as opposed to the metacontext stuff that we do here. Several points stand out:
For the benefit of those who have not been following this, Labour have just lost their twenty fifth safest seat in a by-election, to the Scottish Nationalists this time. If they can’t hold seats like this, what can they hold? Gordon Brown is clearly electoral death, even in Scotland, maybe particularly in Scotland. For as long as this appalling man leads their party, no Labour MP can feel safe. So, you would think, all they need to do now is get on the phone to each other and decide on an alternative.
But, the trouble is that, closely related to the above, the semi-plausible Labour Party leader, among the half-dozen or so semi-plausible choices, with a majority that is most likely to survive the next general election is … Gordon Brown! Pick any of the others, and what remains of Labour could go into the next Parliament with a leader who has just lost his seat.
Even if they do pick another Prime Minister, he or she will be a new Prime Minister. This is not like the chaotic Conservatives of the nineties and noughts picking yet another new Opposition Leader. This will be a rabble of discredited politicians choosing another national political leader, having just themselves picked the previous dud. That uncontested succession is looking like more and more of a blunder, and what is more a blunder by the Labour Party as a whole, not by the mere Prime Minister. And as the travails of the present incumbent incompetent illustrate so well, you never really know how well or how badly some new guy will do. Even cabinet ministers don’t get anything like the kind of sustained media glare shone on them that Prime Ministers do. A new guy will be a leap into the unknown. If he’s no better than Gordon Brown …
The governing parliamentary party is now a complete shambles, and worse, a complete shambles which seems to have no obvious way of rescuing itself, which is what the word complete always means in such circumstances. David Cameron is now saying: let’s have an election now. The country can’t wait until 2010. I think Cameron’s timing is spot on. Earlier I here speculated about the already then widely touted idea of scorched earth, between now and the next election, the scorchers being Gordon Brown and his Labour Party, and Britain being the scorchee. Now it looks like the Labour Party is about to get a terminal roasting right now. Maybe others can see some kind of way out for these people now, but I can’t. What now looks like happening is that the government will implode, as the saying goes. Just what that will involve, who can say? It might even get interesting in the House of Commons. There might even be a vote of no confidence in the government that the government will lose, or perhaps win too badly to carry on. Certainly, a Geoffrey Howe moment looks like coming soon, when a Labour heavyweight gets up, very publicly, and says, Prime Minister, it’s over, as Howe did in the House of Commons to Thatcher. But such a speech is just as likely to be an impulsive moment of personal rage as part of any thought-through plan about what the hell to do next. Because the thing is, no matter how bad things get for Labour, the circumstances are such that they could then get even worse. Even diehard socialists of the sort who built the Labour Party in the first place only voted for it because it looked like it could become a plausible parliamentary instrument to do the things they wanted. If Labour stops being even that, will anyone want to go on voting for it?
Fellow Samizdatista Michael Jennings says that after about a decade of Conservative rule, over a very difficult clutch of circumstances, Labour will be back. I agree that something will be back, but will it be Labour? Forget voting Labour. Will anyone even want to stand for it? I expect Guido Fawkes to be listening out for stories concerning seemingly heavyweight Labourites grabbing that Job in The City while the going is still good, and abandoning all hope of any political future. Worse, that New Generation that political pundits will be confidently expecting, in the manner of Cameron and his young pals, may simply fail to materialise, of anything like adequate quality. Don’t forget, by the way, just as an aside, that the Labour Party is now pretty much bankrupt.
The underlying story here is the economy, not the Labour Party economy, the national economy. Which is also unravelling horribly, and which can surely only get worse in the next year or two. It has become clear to me that I am angry about this “New” Labour Party because, although I never supported it and never voted for it, I did actually believe them when they said that they wouldn’t completely screw up on the tax-and-spend front. I actually feel personally betrayed! Blair, I thought, got it, about spending only what you can get from tax and that you can only get so much tax. Well, maybe he did, but he handed the country over to a stupid grump who quite clearly did not and does not get it. The stupid grump only pretended to, and now he’s stopped even pretending. It’s almost as if Blair wanted the Labour Party to implode, “apres moi”. He made the one promise that he must have known that a Brown-lead Labour Party would not then keep, and left them to destroy themselves, with a great big grin on his face. I hope that this Labour melt-down causes some retro-analysis of Tony Blair and of his alleged competence, as both a Party leader and a national leader. It’s not just Iraq, not just civil liberties, not just the relentless crumbling and dumbing down of the public sector. It’s the economy, stupid. Blair let it happen. The only thing he knew how to do well was to keep on being Prime Minister, until such time as he was unable even to do that.
Will things now calm down for Labour? Am I becoming overwrought, again? Maybe. Will Brown, or someone, steady the ship, hold the horses, steady the buffs (whoever they may be)? Perhaps. But they’ve been saying that for the last six months and more, and yet things keep getting worse. And they are now getting much worse much faster.