29 May 2006

Polly Toynbee on Labour tribalism, PR, the press and Gordon Brown.

"Proportional representation - or at the very least the alternative vote (putting candidates in 1,2,3 order on the ballot paper) would make a huge difference to the health of Westminster and local council democracy, breaking the monopolies...

"But the idea of angry mobs rising up to demand fair representation is wishful indeed. Been there, tried it, almost despaired. I have tramped from door to door amassing a huge petition for it (that was back in the 80's, trying to break the mould). Most people were clueless how the present system worked, and it is always very hard to work voters up about the constitution or there would have been rebellion long ago..............

"As for 'a united press'! Dream on. The press is a commercial mainly malevolent force, with commercial/political motives, owned mainly by 3 despots - Murdoch, Barclays bros and Rothermere - plus Desmond. Never for a moment imagine it sees itself with a moral/national guardian/educational mission. They won't support PR if the Tories don't....(The Guardian and Indy do)......Most people in the main parties don't support it, because they'd rather rule absolutely half the time than share with anyone.......

"If I were a right wing Tory I would oppose it as this country has always had a left of centre majority: Mrs T would never have ruled under PR....... It is more shocking that Labour people won't go for PR as a way of keeping the hard right out: (a Lib Dem/Tory coalition, if it ever came to that, would never be Thatcherite).

"Labour's reasons are shockingly tribal, not intellectual - they hate the LDs - but they should get over it as the two parties share most progressive impulses. They might both be improved by governing together.....Interestingly - and far too late - many more Lab people are coming round to PR. But in these desperate days, it might smack of gerrymandering.......

"It's not self-indulgence or anything ad hominem that makes me think Blair should go now. I may be wrong, but my only reason for wanting Blair out is to save Labour. I supported him for as long as I thought him an asset..

"Has Brown any new ideas? They say he is brewing them in secret, ready to spring them on an amazed world. I hope so. Yes, I think the solid dour Old Man of Fyfe might be a refreshing counterweight to airy Blair and lightweight Cameron. But we can't know until he's in inside No 10......

"1964 was my first election of political consciousness..(leafletting for Lena Jaeger)....Most governments lose. Renewal in office is very hard. Brown may suffer a Callaghan/Major tail-end-charlie fate - or maybe he can really forge something new. There is nothing to do but hope....as ever. Nil desperandum..."

I'm not sure about Polly's support of Brown, I think Labour need to surprise both the electorate and the Tories and go for someone younger or more radical (Denham, Miliband, even Meacher) to counter Cameron. I can't see Brown turning it around despite his supposed economy trump card (I am still convinced our economy is built on sand (masses of personal debt), unlike the eurozone's economies which look more troubled but have a firmer more honest footing (and have taken a load of FDI from us because of our short sighted decision to stay out of the Euro). Of course if the recession comes, nothing will save Labour, we are looking doomed anyway.

I am so angry that Blair/Labour didn't honour their PR promise in the first two terms. It is going to be impossible now unless we have a miracle recovery in the polls that would allow us to change the electoral system and it not look desperate. Once again we could be plunged into a Thatcherite government (under Cameron) that the majority voted against! If that happens we only have ourselves to blame when the Tories change the boundaries and keep us out for a generation.

Polly's analysis of the PR/Labour tribalism/press situation is exactly my position as well, it is a spot on analysis. If Brown has missed his chance (and remember Brown's support amongst Labour members is lower than Blair) then I just hope we don't get John Reid. God (figurative use) help us if that happens!


  1. Neil

    Do you think there is any chance of a debate in the Party as to its future direction and leader? i suspect Blair will ensure his successor is Blairmk11.

    Polly says Brown may be different once he actually becomes leader. trouble is a lot of us thought Blair might be more radical once in power .

  2. No offense to Milliband, but I think Brown is the best successor and the better for the electorate. Milliband can wait his turn

  3. I'm not sure Brown is going to win votes, that is my main worry. He is too associated with this government and that could be difficult for him to shake off. Also as we all know he has not got the right image. I know that shouldn't matter but unfortunately it does. Cameron is pulling in the female vote just on his image (he is offering them nothing in policy terms).

    When Blair does go, and I am hoping he lasts till December 2008 (if only because I hate Thatcher so much I don't want her to hold her record of longest serving PM in modern times) then the debate hopefully will happen.

    The latest Guardian opinion polls suggests that most Labour party members like Blair more than Brown. When it comes to the contest, it is by no means sure Brown will win it, if Blair does last into 2008, a new young (hopefully more radical) candidate could come through very quickly.

    Although someone like Michael Meacher won't win, he has opened up the policy debate by stating he would increase the minimum wage to £7.40. This is the sort of thing we need to be talking about. I believe it is a vote winner.

  4. John Reid?! Eek. Although you have to admit, it would be fun to watch as he roamed the streets at night, looking for any liberals, Greens and socialists to lock up. ;)

  5. They didn't take any notice of PR in the first two terms because the FPTP system currently gives them a large advantage over everybody else.

    Likewise devolution was parliaments for Scotland and Wales, where Labour has always had very strong support, but not England where they have much less support. Despite the problems that brings with the West Lothian Question. Where the tories to get in in 2015 they would create an English parliament for exactly the same cynical reasons, it would be easy for them to win.

    Since in the current FPTP the ruling party will always have some kind of systematic bias in their favour (or they wouldn't become the ruling part) they are unlikely ever to change to PR as this would remove that bias, and so mean they loose seats.

  6. Chris: "Since in the current FPTP the ruling party will always have some kind of systematic bias in their favour (or they wouldn't become the ruling party) they are unlikely ever to change to PR as this would remove that bias, and so mean they lose seats."

    Well yes, obviously in the first two terms Labour cooled on their manifesto commitment on PR because it gave them such a huge majority. But this is short term thinking, in the long term there is a built in left majority in this country and so it would be in Labour's long term interests to change the system. Labour changed the system in New Zealand and that was a place that looked the least likely to change from FPTP to PR.