Tag Archives: Prime Minister

Get Some Guts, Brown!

But it’s not just Brown is it? This after all was the party which voted for an illegal war. They may bleat on about Brown not listening, but how many of them have recently? John Kampfner sees electoral oblivion:

So, like lemmings, Labour MPs have been bought off by a combination of fear, bullying and the promise of a fresh start. They feared the onset of an autumn general election, believing that by hanging on they stood a better chance of salvation next May or June. They allowed the haranguing and the briefings by the thuggish to get the better of them. And they appeared to accept the prime minister’s assertions that, this time, he will improve his own behaviour, and that of those around him.

Behavioural change is hard to achieve, particularly for a man of Brown’s wizened years. But perhaps in adversity he will throw caution to the wind on policy. If so how about, for a start, political and constitutional reform, genuine measures for fiscal redistribution (rather than the belated stunt from the last Budget), a fully independent and public inquiry into the Iraq war, and legislation that would enshrine into law greater punishments for banks and other institutions that put greed ahead of the public good? I, for one, will not be holding my breath.

Most of those who believed that Brown would give the Labour party fresh impetus after the Blair years, who believed that during his decade of scheming he might actually have come up with a plan, saw their hopes evaporate quite some time ago. Others are prepared to give him one final opportunity to turn around their party’s fortunes. In so doing, they have begun a slow sleepwalk to oblivion at the next general election, and the dismantling of what is left of the British left.

I fear he’s right. Johnson and Miliband may demonstrate an understanding of the need for electoral reform, but the government’s hardly talking about it. Where’s the constitutional convention? Where’s the public education campaign to sell PR to a public no longer sceptical about constitutional change? As was mentioned at the Liberty conference last weekend, a government eager to teach the electorate about swine ‘flu should have no problem leafleting about PR. So where is it? And where’s the swine ‘flu leafleting for that matter? Sigh. They’re incompetent aren’t they, both the government and the party? Polly Toynbee even has a speech prepared for the Prime Minister, be they Brown, Johnson, Harman, Miliband or Straw:

“Friends, there will be an election and a referendum on constitutional reform. I relinquish the injustice of the prime minister choosing the date: from now on elections will always be on the first Sunday in May, with fixed parliaments. Before then, we will clean up expenses and every sitting Labour MP will undergo reselection. A convention on the constitution and on liberty will bring in clean party funding: democracy will not be in hock to the whim of millionaires. We will have an elected Lords, sweep away obscurantist flummery in the Commons and devolve more powers. This parliament that made a mess of things must clean it up before it goes. A referendum on proportional representation deserves time for the arguments to be put fairly.

‘But above all, as a new prime minister, give me time to lay out my priorities. In a time of hardship we will share the burdens more fairly, protect the most vulnerable better, make sure benefits and the minimum wage are pegged to earnings levels in perpetuity. Green jobs, already begun, will be increased with more housebuilding – and no, there will be no third runway. All we do from now on will be for cleaner, greener and fairer government. I will apologise for things we have done wrong, so you may better believe me when I boast of all we have done well. There is much to be proud of, and much that will be put at risk if we don’t sing the praises of the considerable good Labour has done: Sure Start is just one emblem. Don’t let anyone say the money was wasted or that the state should be shrunk. We stand for all the important things in life that we can only buy together – health, education, safe streets, beautiful parks and the long fight to stop climate change.”

Brilliant – one of the best pieces I’ve ever ready by Toynbee. But even she knows he & they won’t go for it – their supine nature, cultivated by Blair ironically to win elections won’t allow for it. The clock is ticking for an entirely avoidable Cameron premiership and renewed hell under the Tories, with their promises to repeal the Human Rights Act for starters.

He Can’t Hold On

At least I don’t think he can. Last night’s resignation by James Purnell seems to be the final nail in the coffin for Gordon Brown’s premiership. It appears to be a Blairite coup, which begs the question – if they try to move New Labour ever rightward and the failing of Brown’s time as PM has been not to move leftward enough, would doing so now decapitate them? Martin Kettle asks:

Dire though the current hysterical atmosphere is for Labour – and the local and European election results will surely make things worse – there must now be a leadership election. Experts say it can take place quickly. The new leader can be in place by the start of July, even under the cumbersome procedures which Labour has inflicted on itself. Everything points to Alan Johnson being the man of the hour, but there can still be a real debate of the sort that the massively shortsighted coronation of Brown two years ago precluded. My god, they were wrong to give Brown the leadership.

So Brown will be gone in hours, maybe days. He’s right to say that regardless of however much the rules of succession get truncated they must debate the future of the party and the future of the government, and do so publicly. Last time such issues were never discussed at the leadership level, only during the deputy’s race. And remember Harriet Harman, who talked the talk of an independent mind, but who as deputy has never truly changed New Labour for the better. Labour must realise that the reason why this is happening is only partly because of the expenses scandal, for which it is being blamed. Polly Toynbee notes:

The left of centre Compass group agonises over the dilemma: they think Brown a disaster, but a privatising, modernising, rightwing alternative could be worse still. Disappointed that he failed to turn the party progressive, this time they will demand an open debate if a new leader is to emerge. But these bleak calculations of least-worst options are devoid of the support a leader needs, too thin fuel to keep Gordon Brown flying long.

Is neoliberalism working? No, Brown’s been busy trying to patch it back together. Has a limp, half-engagement with the EU been any help there? No. Was Jacqui Smith’s strategy in the Home Office anything other than a disaster? No. Should the party apologise for going to war in Iraq? Hell yes. If Alan Johnson is now to become Prime Minister he needs to realise that the argument has transcended Blair/Brown, left/right divides. The party has become a warmongering, corporate bully, owned entirely by transnational capital, which uses its army and police militia to do its bidding. This is not what New Labour was elected to do. Eradicating child poverty, closing the gap between rich and poor – not endless talk of marketising areas of public life where markets don’t belong and trying everything in its power to stifle the freedom the public should have over the information of government. ID cards must be sacrificed, trident, city academies, superdatabases, RIPA, SOCPA, you name it. Of course if Brown announced all this or Johnson (surely the party can’t be mad enough to appoint Purnell or Miliband, ahead of the now inevitable November General Election) they’d then just become the Greens. And that’s part of the tragedy playing itself out.

Bye Bye Gordo?

It begins

A group of rebel MPs have begun soliciting signatures for a round robin letter calling for Gordon Brown to step down, which they plan to hand to the prime minister after the results of the local and European elections have come in on Monday morning.

The Guardian has learned there are reports that the backbenchers think they can reach 70 or 80 signatories, with some claims that the letter could be delivered to Downing Street by the end of today.

Johnson must be better, otherwise this is an exercise in futility. He must demonstrate an understanding of how Barack Obama was elected, but also roll back the illiberal politics of control which even Obama has balked at. Should he become Prime Minister he must follow through with his public ruminations about government giving up power in order to increase democracy. It’s the only way (apart from its record on devolution) for New Labour to retain any positive legacy.

To Remove Gordon

Brown must go or progressive politics will suffer. The Guardian knows it:

The tragedy for Mr Brown and his party is that his chance to change it has gone. Although he still purports to be a radical, he has adopted the caution of an establishment man. He cannot lead a revolution against his own way of doing government, and yet a revolution is necessary. Grandstanding on his claims to good intentions, the prime minister demands the right to carry on, even as the cabinet implodes around him. The home secretary, the chancellor, and perhaps even the foreign secretary may go, and Labour faces its worst defeat in its history on Thursday, but the prime minister does not recognise his direct responsibility for the mayhem.

The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so. The prime minister demands loyalty, but that has become too much to ask of a party, and a country, that was never given the chance to vote for him. Had there been a contest for the leadership in 2007 – and had Mr Brown called a general election – he would probably have won. He decided not to do these things. And he has largely failed since.

They’re right. As they go on to say, even if he put a referendum on the ballot in 2010 for proportional representation it would be doomed to failure because he put it there. Particularly after the departure of Jacqui Smith and the impending electoral disaster tomorrow, Brown’s authority has now gone entirely. There were signs in late 2007 that Blair’s assessment of him as inappropriate for the top job because of a character flaw was correct – now we know it’s true, and there’s little Britain hates worse than a weak leader. The G20 policing disaster, the McBride scandal, the Royal Mail sell off, and now the expenses scandal – there’s no hint of progressive leadership left in the current leadership. Brown must go and go almost immediately. Whilst Alan Johnson would likely not win what would for him have to be a General Election this year, he could at least begin the repair job on the Labour Party decimated by spin doctors, special advisors, big money, its alliance with the American neoconservatives and the ruthlessness of the parliamentary Blairite machine. Jonathan Freedland though urges caution:

such a move (crowning Johnson) would create as many problems as it would solve. There would be public revolt at the notion of a second unelected prime minister. There would have to be an early election, thereby scuppering Johnson’s chance of introducing constitutional change.

However much voters might be charmed by Johnson, they might be appalled in equal measure by the sight of a party turning in on itself, either for a coup or a drawn-out ­leadership election. As the Tories discovered when they toppled Margaret Thatcher, regicide builds up poison that can take years to dispel.

It’s also true that there are no guarantees. It is not certain that Labour would rally to Johnson or, if it did, that he would have the magic healing powers his ­admirers attribute to him. He might do, but as yet he is untested. Recent polling suggests he would not lift Labour’s numbers at all.

And this is the danger that we’re all in right now. The public is so disengaged from all politicians – even the good ones – that even the best, most positive options may not be on the table. What is clear is this – a huge body of the electorate feels forced to vote for radical alternatives because neither of the ‘big two’ parties has anything to offer them. This has been a long time coming, and is the direct result of Labour and the Tories believing that electoral success lay only in the centre ground. That ground shifted after the Iraq War in 2003, yet both parties failed to learn the lesson from the 2005 election – that it’s time for the return of principle, a return to ideology. Whilst Obama isn’t living up to his words in the US, it was a lesson he learned to get elected. Now Labour must kick out Brown and find its principle, its ideology once again. It must do so very quickly indeed, otherwise we face David Cameron repealing the Human Rights Act and allying himself with religious fundamentalist and homophobes in Europe. Want that either? No, I thought not.

Bibi vs Barack

Israeli leaks suggested that at his first meeting with President Obama in Washington DC today, Netanyahu hoped, and maybe even expected, that if he just kept talking about Iran he could ignore recent Obama administration strictures. No one can say that he was not warned. Incremental signals from Washington have been building the case for the fly-whisk to come into operation.

Instead he was told firmly that there would be talks with Iran, rather than bombs, with “no artificial deadline,” and that the Palestine issue is crucial, with a two state solution, and: “That means that all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they have previously agreed to,” which is diplomatic-speak for Washington’s expectation that Netanyahu will abide by the agreements that Israel has undertaken – for example on settlements, opening the Gaza crossings, and so on.

Netanyahu’s studied refusal to mention a Palestinian state, and his anodyne prescription of two peoples living side by side, was an overtly meaningless evasion.

(source)

But how far will Obama go in pursuit of his objectives? His foreign policy long-games, long since put together by the Phoenix Initiative, involve taking short term losses in favour of long-term gains, as well as tying resolving intractable conflicts to other regional issues and geopolitical problems – see how he’s tied Russia, Iran and Israel together so far? Every time his predecessors have been pushed regarding or by Israel they’ve jumped; will he? Or if he jumps in the short term, will it mean something different? georgeindia, a Guardian commentator points out:

US and Israel will get along just fine. With or Without Obama. With or without Livni. Get back to the real world. Obama, the savior of the world, morally perfect and infinitely-intelligent-than-Bush while having the advantage of a multiracial heritage is with Israel like any other US president (let’s forget that he is bombing Pakistan at the moment).

A point well worth remembering. It’s time to look past the whole Obama-is-not-Bush schtick and look at what he’s doing rather than his rhetoric. He’s restoring military tribunals, persecuting a war in Afghanistan with spurious goals, threatening not quite to pull out of Iraq and has changed his entire position on disclosing the Bush administration’s use of torture in the ‘war’ on terror. He is indeed regularly causing the deaths of dozens of people in Pakistan with unmanned bombing drones, and barely anyone bats an eyelid. Why should he be concerned with actually solving the Israel/Palestine conflict?

Is Labour Doomed Regardless?

Polly Toynbee says what few on the left want to admit:

It’s all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits. As long as he remains leader, there is nothing that wretched Labour candidates can plausibly say on the doorstep at next month’s European elections. They are struck dumb. Why should people vote for them? The horse manure bought on expenses is garnish for a decomposing government. The heart of the matter is the economy, and Brown’s responsibility for the bubble years. He personally is to blame for Labour’s failure to ensure that ordinary people on median incomes and poor people at the bottom received a bigger share in national growth: it turns out that they fell back and only the wealthy prospered. Labour made the rich richer and the poor poorer: growth for the few, not the many.

She then claims:

The one person around whom the party could gather speedily would be Alan Johnson. It’s nonsense that another unopposed leadership would mean disaster: a general election is coming soon enough. Orphan boy, genial postman, self-made, clever but modest, he has the grace and charm to match his perfect backstory. He was always the one the Cameroons feared. His political talents turned the NHS from a danger with closures and denials of drugs into an asset for Labour. Good to work with, good in public, he inspires considerable admiration. This time I will not say I know he would be a good leader – that’s unknowable until too late. I doubt that he can win for Labour. But, goodness knows, Cameron is still there for the taking.

Off the cuff I’m in the odd position of wanting to agree. Cameron is winning in the polls by default. Blair in 1997 had Major over a barrel (despite turning out to be a fraud himself) – Cameron isn’t winning on his own merits – it’s Brown who’s losing because he has none. His government has allowed the police to behave like a quasi-autonomous militia, has presided over the near-destruction of the economy, has created the biggest divide between rich and poor since Victorian times and played with very basic civil liberties like toys. Their record on the environment too is a joke, still beholden to big business as they are at all costs. The question though remains: what would Johnson bring to the leadership which Brown hasn’t already? And this is where the argument falls flat – Johnson is New Labour through and through. ID cards? Check. Foundation hospitals? Check. Iraq War? Check. The list goes on. They really shouldn’t replace Brown – they’re toast either way.

Gordon Brown is a Fraud

Gordon Brown is about to take the ‘War’ on Terror to a new level:

Together with the new US administration, we are developing a strategy to tackle the terrorist threat across the region, the underlying causes, the extremist madrasas and the lawless spaces in which terrorists recruit or train. A vital part of this is building up the security forces of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the support of our own armed forces, so they can take on more of this responsibility for themselves, an approach I discuss frequently with Presidents Karzai and Zardari, urging closer co-operation between their countries.

Recast: a vital part of this is building up the security forces of fundamentally corrupt puppet regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How on earth is that going to improve the safety of Western Europe against Islamist terrorist attack? Karzai is discredited and Zardari has long been known to be on the take, so isn’t this approach just a continuation of the way business as usual was conducted pre-9/11?

As the threats we face are changing rapidly, we can never assume that the established way of doing things will be enough. We will always make the necessary changes, whether through greater investment, changes to our laws or reforms to the way we do things, to ensure that Britain is protected.

And at all times, the responsibility remains the same – protecting the security of all and safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the individual. I outlined to Parliament last week the steps we are taking to make absolutely clear that we meet the highest standards, continuing to condemn unequivocally the use of torture, never torturing nor ever asking others to torture for us.

And yet on his watch both as Prime Minister and Chancellor, the United Kingdom has been complicit both in torture and extraordinary rendition. Proof exists, but is currently suppressed from publication, that the British government knew what was happening to Binyam Mohammed, and indeed played a role in his multi-year torture in Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The ‘war’ on terror narrative has claimed numerous victims like Binyam Mohammed, and it’s telling that at a time when the Obama Administration is distancing itself from such a myopic perspective on such a complicated set of interlocking problems, that Brown is getting ever more blinkered.

Terrorism threatens the rights that all in this country should hold dear, including the most fundamental human right of all – the right to life. We know that terrorists will keep on trying to strike and that protecting Britain against this threat remains our most important job.

I believe that this updated strategy, recognised by our allies to be world-leading in its wide-ranging nature, leaves us better prepared and strengthened in our ability to ensure all peace-loving people of this country can live normally, with confidence and free from fear.

And here we go, returning to the straw man argument about ‘right to life’. Terrorism indeed threatens the right to life; his government however has constantly attacked the right to freedom from torture, from arbitrary arrest, to freedom of assembly, to a fair trial, to the right to leave and return to this country, and that’s just human rights as listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How are we expected to ‘live normally’ under such conditions? Gordon Brown is a massive fraud and a far bigger threat to human rights and civil liberties than Al Qaeda could ever hope to be.