01 March 2007

There is still enough time to avoid a Brown disaster.

I started writing down why I think Gordon Brown would be a poor leader of the Labour party. Within 30 seconds I had more than 10 bullet points, they are, in no particular order;

1. Control Freakery - if this article in the Guardian is true, he is even trying to shut down policy debate that is essential if we are to change our image (and unlike the Tories actually change some policies as well), that is how to win the next election.

2. Continuity - The electorate are fed up of us, the last thing we need is the same old face, we need a radical break and a new face untainted by New Labour disasters.

3. Left Wing Image - yes, according to YouGov, Brown is placed well to the left, compared to Blair who comes out almost dead centre. The middle ground is where we need to be. A Labour leader would not last 5 minutes with our right wing press if allowed to be painted as too Old Labour.

4. The Opinion Polls - we would be mad to ignore the fact that Gordon Brown is so unliked he is more unpopular than an already unpopular Labour party - he drags our rating DOWN! Like I warned the Lib Dems when they elected Menzies Campbell - 'Ming's weak image will take you nowhere' - they have since lost 6%-7% at the polls. Those who point to Brown helping us out in 2005, forget two things - that the boost was more about 'unity' at the top than Brown's image/abilities and also of course who wouldn't have a better likeability than Michael Howard? Cameron is a different kettle of fish.

5. Communication - Brown is awkward, humourless and looks totally ill at ease talking to the electorate and interviewers. These things do matter. Even if the policies are good, it is just as important they are communicated well, otherwise they count for nothing. This is especially important for us in the face of the overwhelmingly hostile media and now that the Tories have a PR guru as leader spinning away. We also used to have likeable Lib Dem leader Kennedy backing us in exposing the Tories, now the Lib Dems have elected a non-entity as leader, it is more important than ever that we have an effective leader highlighting Tory hypocritical policy.

6. Dunfermline by-election result - In Brown's back-water (next door seat), a should-be safish Labour seat was lost despite his best intensive efforts - with strong local campaigning and high personal exposure in the local campaign. This is the only electoral test he has faced (shielded as he has been by Tony Blair taking the wrap for poor results and policy). Brown has comprehensively failed the electoral challenge.

7. Iraq War - Brown is closely associated with this debacle and well known to have voted in favour.

8. Political Cowardice - When some things go wrong, who is Brown going to hide behind when he is leader?

9. The Euro - I know most of you probably agree with Brown on this, and as a short term strategy (like consumer debt) it has boosted an economy (built on sand?), unfortunately as the Eurozone starts to power ahead in the next 5,10,20 years, we will be begging to join, just like we were with membership of the EU.

10. PR - It was John Prescott, Ian McCartney and Gordon Brown that pulled Blair back from his enthusiam for PR. This doesn't bold well for Brown's democratic principles - just when a weak parliament, emaciated local democracy and electoral system needs them most.

11. Religion - Brown is more religious than Blair. I have just written 'clueless idiot' next to this bullet point. I think you know what I mean. (This also rules out people like Hilary Benn for deputy).

12. Defeat in General Election - Most important of all, it doesn't take a genius to see we are sleepwalking to defeat under Brown.

So far only a couple of lefty losers have thrown their names into the leadership hat. I think from the ranks of cabinet high flyers crowding the 'deputy' stakes we can safely say that they have ruled themselves out. This is a big disappointment but there is still plenty of time for a centrist candidate to come through, even Miliband could do a u-turn if they spin it right, he certainly is in a strong position to win, with media curiousity and an unblemished cabinet post. Personally I think he is too predictably establishment but he certainly could handle the media far better than Brown.

Although not a good example considering his ill feted reign, John Major came through from total obscurity to become PM and it must not be forgotten that he was the most popular PM ever, winning an unlikely fourth term for the Tories with the highest vote numbers ever - over 14m. John Major although installed as chancellor for a few months, was a total unknown to most voters when elected leader.

I would like to see several candidates from all wings of the party, but most important of all is the challenge from the centre. I have been arguing for some time for John Denham to stand and there is still enough time. It is good to see this idea in the national media. A principled anti-war MP is just the tonic we all need.

PS - Correct me if I am wrong on this, but I think a Labour MP can vote for more than one candidate in this Labour leadership election - so getting 44 MPs should be attainable for quite a few.


  1. I agree -except that membership of the Euro would be disastrous for the UK!

  2. snafu: So what are your views on John Denham? Do you think he could revive Labour?

    I imagine you want to withdraw from the EU, so it is not surprising you don't fancy the Euro.

    The thing is, in the short term - 5-7ish years you are probably right, joining the Euro might have damaged our economy (certainly the Major government made it very difficult - our economy is over-reliant on variable interest rates and the housing market is the biggest concern). The Euro is a risk for all involved but the UK would have found it the most difficult!

    But the Euro is off the ground, the initial start has been remarkably free of calamities despite all the doom-mongers.

    EZ growth slowed initially - for a number of reasons - maybe totally unrelated to the impact of the Euro but now the EZ is predicted to overtake anglo-saxon growth.

    Remember all the furore from the right wing press about a 'weak Euro', this was short term - all the economists predicted that it would be a strong reserve currency and start to rival the dollar as reserve currency. This is increasingly happening. The Euro-dollar rate was launched at $1.17 dropped to $0.82 at its lowest, but now stands at $1.32. This is less fluctuation than the deutsch-mark-dollar exchange rate over a similar period. Every day the Euro's percentage as a world reserve currency increases, it is second only to the dollar now and catching up.

    Investment both foreign and internal has been given an enormous boost in the EZ and competition is increasing as companies exploit the improved larger market transparency. Inflation has been kept lower than ours (any initial profiteering soon disappeared as competition reigned this practise in).

    From an economic perspective - joining the Euro is a no-brainer. Like any venture there are risks, but this is not going to be allowed to fail, there is too much at stake. I suspect the detractors largely fear the political implications but economics is the biggest political factor in the end. Murdoch and the Currys/Dixons like companies just fear their cosy UK monopoly being challenged by large-scale competition - hence their hostility.

  3. It's not often we agree entirely on something, but this time, we do. I don't see the young guns waiting in the wings in the way that I could see Blair as a future leader in the early nineties. He was an obvious candidate long before a leadership election was on the cards.

    The current crop just don't impress. The thought of Brown in number ten sends shivers down my spine.

  4. Longrider: I still think there could be a big surprise - 'a week is a long time in politics' as the cliche goes! I really hope there is a credible challenge, if there isn't it would be a missed opportunity.

    The Tories are masters at using their leadership elections to promote their party and there is no reason why Labour can't do the same, especially as over a million people could vote in a Labour election. It could be a propaganda spectacular, but we have to keep it civil - something we have a reputation from the 80s for failing to do. The media will not help us but we have to have the main candidates saying nice things about each other and compete in a positive way.

    I am sure we will see a blairite or centrist challenge - but like you say, we don't know from where at the moment. I know if I was a Labour MP, I would be mobilising behind the scenes.

  5. Neil, I am quite happy for the rest of Europe to have the Euro as it reduces transaction costs for UK importers and exporters.

    My resistance to the Euro is on the basis that you give up any remaining control of your currency and Gordon's proud boast that he gave the Bank of England independence would become meaningless!

    I don't know enough about John Denham to give a view on him, sorry! It's just that Labour are damned if Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister, but no one is strong or brave enough to challenge him.

    Why are you happy for cosy UK monopolies like Dixons / Currys to be challenged but not for cosy UK monopolies like healthcare and education!?!

  6. In the short term (maybe even the medium term) the UK would certainly have suffered under the Euro (as indeed the transition has been difficult for France, Germany etc)- so in a way you are right - but I am thinking further ahead, 20-30 years.

    I think we would have negotiated the best terms if we got into the Euro early on - there would have been pain because our economy was so sensitive to variable interest rates and the Thatcher/Major govts had moved the economy so out of synch with the Eurozone (perhaps on purpose).

    At the end of the day, I think I have as much in common with Germans, French, Italians etc than I do with English people. Power should be devolved down to the lowest level (like it is in Germany) but equally it makes no sense to have artificial economic inefficiencies based on outdated national borders. Nationalism is as irrational as racism and religion and just as dangerous (maybe more so).

    The Euro makes sense for very simple economic reasons - it is most certainly a political project too (and I know all about optimum currency theory) but just as having a different currency in the North of England to the South makes little sense, it makes no sense in the EU market (Paris is closer to London by train than Manchester).

    I could go on, but watch our attitude change when the benefits of membership become more obvious. Just like the worst policy mistake our foreign office ever made - staying out of the EEC, our neighbours have took the risks, set the pace and they will reap the benefits and set the rules (like CAP) not in our favour. We could have been in there arguing our case. It seems history is repeating itself over the Euro, when will we ever learn. When the time comes for us to join (and it surely will) we may have to pay a heavy price for admission (just like we did to get into the EEC) and save ourselves from crippling economic decline.

  7. On your other points (Denham is unknown amongst the public) but they would sson learn of his opposition to Iraq and his sensible stance on constitutional reform and law and order. How much did we know of Cameron when he was elected (come to think of it, how much do we know of him now?).

    As for health, education monopoies. I am all for introducing competition to improve efficiencies - but the market only works well when it is regulated well otherwise we get recessions and crashs. We cannot afford the level of slash and burn that we get in the consumer products markets, health and education are life changing (life and death even), Ipods are not.

  8. Nationalism, tribalism and indeed racism are quite rational as most people have a fundamental need to beolong to a group within society.

    How else do you explain fervent support for a particular football team, allegiance to a flag or Muslim allegiance to their faith!?!

    Only socialism is irrational as it conflicts with basic human selfishness!

  9. Humans are social co-operative animals, every day the vast majority are more altruistic than selfish. Indeed we wouldn't survive without high levels of co-operation.

    People feel the need to belong to a group but to discriminate against others on the grounds of nationality, religion, racism etc is not something we should sit back and be happy about (as you suggest). There has been considerable success in fighting these isms and it has improved our society as a result. I think you are wrong to be happy about the Right's record in defending discrimination and prejudice.

  10. Neil, I'm not defending it! I'm just saying that it's an observation!

    Of course, you could always look at left-wing desires to belong to a Union or desire to be a member of the working class and hate those who aren't!