Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brown to face Challenge?

The Labour party is holding its breath waiting for the result of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. If they lose, and the last poll showed them trailing by 13 points, then a bout of bloodletting is to be expected.

The first issue will be the divisive 'toff' campaign that has seen Labour pushing class war and xenophobia as the main reasons for people to vote for them. This has already caused disquiet among many Labour people because of its small-minded appeal to the worst instincts of voters, but they have been muted by the need to hold things together for the campaign. Do not expect that to continue if Labour fail in Crewe. Then the gloves will come off and the recriminations will be bitter. It is one thing to lose an election, but quite another to lose the moral direction that is meant to characterise your party. One rumour is that it was Stephen Carter, Brown's management consultant, who came up with the 'toff' wheeze. Certainly someone will have to take the fall. As a former parliamentary candidate myself, I can’t help but wonder what Ms. Dunwoody is playing at. Losing is one thing, but losing with this campaign cannot but kill off any sort of political career she may hoped to have had. If she were as independent as her mum then she would have told Labour HQ to shove off when they came up with their poisonous ideas.

The second issue is Brown himself. If Labour lose badly then the rumour is that a coup is planned. However, the buzz on the Internet is not about Charles Clarke, rather Alan Milburn as the assassin. Labour rules make a challenge to a sitting PM very difficult in theory, but in practice a succession of MPs calling on Brown to go could force the issue, especially if any of the cabinet were involved.

Whatever happens the elephant in the room is that the Labour party is broke. Tony Blair mortgaged their future in the 2005 general election campaign and then bowed out leaving Brown with empty coffers. Brown is not a good fundraiser and even if he survives politically, keeping him at the helm may mean the end of the party as a going financial concern. This is serious stuff by the way; Brown's ineptitude has cost the party the broad-based support that it needs to rebuild as a functioning political entity. It is this sort of convergence of events that can do for a political movement: no money, poor leadership and, worst of all, a political narrative that is out of touch with most of the electorate. By ditching the New Labour coalition, Labour could contract back into a party of the working class. Except that the working class, as measured by those people in NRS Social Grade Definitions C2DE, only makes up about 44% of the population. If your electoral strategy starts by only appealing to less than half of the population before you have even started competing with other parties then you are never likely to be a party of government, and that means that many good people interested in public service will find another berth.

Labour's best bet is to find another leader who can raise money and who wants to keep them in the political mainstream. Much more of the class war stuff and Nick Clegg will be leading Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in a couple of general elections.

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