Edward Timpson is now the Tory MP for Crewe and Nantwich and Brown is without much doubt finished. I believe he should be replaced by Alan Johnson, who made a big mistake in not running against him for the top job last year. Johnson is personable, comes across as reasonable, and has good political instincts, although whether anyone could stop the rot now is another question. First however the reasons why Brown has to go. Whilst rising prices and particularly fuel and energy prices are significant, they’re demonstrably not the root cause. Instead:
- He’s a co-architect of Iraq and not making moves to get out. Whilst his initial meeting as PM with Bush was frosty, that’s now completely changed to being similarly pally as Blair. There’s no doubt that’s because he plays a weak hand internationally and domestically, but he had an opportunity to differentiate himself fundamentally from Blair here and he missed it.
- He can’t say he’s going to work flat out to save us from the credit crunch when he engineered a core plank of it. Building Britain’s economic boom on credit was always going to come home and hit either him or a successor sometime – it was unsustainable. Now that conceit has been broken he can’t say its results are only down to international economics which he doesn’t have control over, because most people know better. It’s true that it was their fault for building their financial livelihoods on such a dreadful facade, but when the government practically screams ‘spend spend spend’ with cheap money, what else are you to do?
- He isn’t displaying any understanding of equality and how inequality has risen out of control during his and his predecessor’s runs. Not only does he have to reform the House of Lords and Westminster voting system (which he may yet do), but he has also to appreciate that the low paid will only take so many sucker punches to the head before returning the favour. The 10p tax rate was the last straw for enough people to knock Labour’s core support out entirely. He did a good job in 1997 with his windfall tax, taking massively excess profits from the public utilities – that was seen as fair and effective, yet he then stole from the pensioners, thinking he could get away with it. He couldn’t then, he can’t now.
- His Home Secretary is a monster. Whilst she is talking about encouraging the police to be more anti-social, Boris Johnson largely won an election on headline grabbing initiatives like the police carrying more metal detectors. I’m not saying I agree with either of them, but the current lot are criminalising people by reputation alone, committing horrific human rights abuses within the asylum system, trying to ratchet up the amount of time someone can be held by the police without charge and both screwing over the police and giving them free rein to stamp on even the most legitimate public demonstrations. Don’t get me started about ID cards…
- He’s now lost so much authority that his protege Wendy Alexander is now openly defying him and misrepresenting his position in Scotland. Reading between the lines it seemed the Scottish Labour leader decided to push for a referendum regardless of the damage it would do to Brown. At a time when he desperately needed to regain voter confidence in England it was insane to be in a position of having to defend the Union against one of his closest allies. She’s clearly not fit for the job, but he is also clearly not leading the larger Labour Party.
Of course he’ll stay, and whilst Alan Johnson would do better, and Parnell’s cooing Blairite mantras, the fact is Labour’s going to lose the next general election. They all know this, and it’s why none of them is currently trying to oust Brown – they’re looking to determine their post-Brown credentials now. And they’re all at it, just watch any given news report. There’ll be a cabinet minister not talking about what they are doing, they’re discussing what the government should be doing. And they could:
- tax the super rich again or take the poorest out of income tax entirely;
- implement some form of grand environmental policy gesture, like authorising HS2 or refusing the third Heathrow runway;
- walk away from ID cards and 42 days, although they can’t possibly get the police back under control, given Jacqui Smith’s blunder with their pay;
- reform the Westminster electoral system and the House of Lords, making Parliament more representative and accountable in a stroke;
But they won’t and people just think they’re incompetent. Billions have been thrown at the NHS, but the average experience of the health service hasn’t markedly improved. They said they would be ‘tough on the causes of crime’, but prefer to lock up harmless asylum seekers, attack the rights of protesters and most insidiously want to be in sole control of our identities. Is it remotely surprising that when the Tories present themselves in apposition to these positions, people choose to vote for them instead, regardless of their backgrounds? So there are some Old Etonians playing socialist-sounding policies – well there are a bunch of socialists who are enjoying the Tory high life too.
The most recent demonstration I photographed showed me in no uncertain terms just how political the next generation is, and that the current administration and they aren’t even on the same page, let alone speaking the same language. But ultimately it’s New Labour’s inherent timidity and authoritarianism, coupled with its fundamental tie to neo-liberal economics at a time when that system is fracturing, which is destroying it. Brown could even be true to his own personality for a change, and his popularity still wouldn’t recover; the basic infrastructure of New Labour is dead in the water.