Friday, January 01, 2010

Come Back Donald Macintyre!

Click HERE to read an article by Donald Macintyre in today's Independent. It demonstrates that, while he may be based a thousand miles away in Israel, he remains one of the finest political writers around today. In his piece he analyses the likelihood of a last minute challenge to Gordon Brown and concludes that Brown is screwed, whatever happens. His contacts among Blairites, especially those around Peter Mandelson, are unrivalled, so you need to read the article very carefully and analyses what he doesn't say, as well as what he does.

...It is hard to find a senior Labour figure who does not privately believe that the party would have a significantly better chance if Mr Brown stepped down. Leaving aside questions of style and elector fatigue, one argument is that a new leader could openly acknowledge the mistakes as well as real successes of a party which Mr Brown has helped to dominate for 15 years – and make a credible case for repairing the former precisely because he – or she – is not so implicated in having made them in the first place.

All that is pretty common ground. The question is whether it could yet happen. The dissidents believe it is the political and moral duty of Mr Brown's most senior Cabinet colleagues to save the party from electoral disaster by refusing to serve under him. And that a short subsequent 21-day leadership contest, its bloodletting restrained by the imminence of a general election, could actually help rather than hinder the party's standing.

It might even resolve the still rumbling argument over how explicit to be about the inevitable cuts in public expenditure – outside the protected areas of hospitals and schools – needed to help tackle the biggest deficit in British economic history. Despite the widespread doubts about the Brown-Balls preoccupation with the investment versus cuts "dividing line" with the Tories, the Prime Minister and his Schools secretary are not completely alone in thinking that, since the cuts will not be relevant until 2011, there is no need to be specific now.

The contrary view is that it would actually enhance Labour's fiscal credibility to commit itself, say, to cutting Trident or even raising university tuition fees, at the same time as drawing the Tories on to Labour grounds by forcing them to idenifty their own plans for cuts. Certainly the Darling-Mandelson axis was not strong enough to overcome the Balls-Brown resistance to being specific on cuts before the pre-Budget report. There is no equivalent, so the argument goes, to the late Seventies alliance between Chancellor Healey and Prime Minister Callaghan which confronted voters with the facts of economic life, and, if it had not been for the union-fomented Winter of Discontent, might have beaten off the Thatcher challenge in 1979.

There are counter-arguments to all this. Whatever his deepest views on Labour's chances – and even if some think that, in the event of a wholesale Cabinet revolt, he might not "strive officiously to keep alive" his friend and leader – Peter Mandelson remains an unlikely regicide, on grounds of personal loyalty and bond. Other ministers who would ideally prefer a David Miliband premiership think the moment for enacting the Clarke scenario was not now but last year when James Purnell led the way, the catastrophic European election results provided a legitimate and immediate casus belli against Mr Brown, and Mr Miliband refused to strike

Finally, there are real fears in the Cabinet that such a revolt could misfire, with Mr Brown replacing the rebels and carrying on at the head of a broken party; and that, even if he did not, the story of the political murder would dominate the agenda until the election...

...Home thoughts from abroad risk lurching between the trite and untrue. But it does look as if the next fortnight will be critical. It appears that Tory support is wide but shallow and that another Labour leader could reduce it. But if the Prime Minister survives January – and past experience suggests he will – then Labour will probably have to take its chances with Mr Brown. The polls suggest that at the very best that could mean Labour forming the biggest single party in a hung Parliament.

It is at least as likely that the Tories will have an overall majority or that as the biggest single party they can govern as a minority until fighting a second election. If so, Labour, twice toppled from office in the last 40 years, will have to hope that the precedent is 1970, when it came back after four years, and not 1979, when it took 18.

This is a rare column on British politics from Macintyre, but he is one of the few columnists I would make sure I read every week if he were back in this country. I think he is sorely missed. I understand why he wanted a break from covering Westminster politics, but isn't it time he forsook the delights of the Middle East for the Westminster beat again? He would give the Independent some much needed political 'bottom' and make it a must read for those on both sides of the political spectrum. An analytical team of Macintyre and Steve Richards would be excellent. So come on, Don. Come home, at least for the election. You know it makes sense.


Anonymous said...

Job swap with his son perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Can we do a trade and get him back in return for his son, James??

paulstpancras said...

David Miliband is the Michael Portillo of New Labour. He bottled it in 2007, then again in 2008 and, when Purnell resigned bottled it again. He was offered the Foreign Minister of Europe and chickened out yet again. The man has no concept of leadership or strategic timing.

If he wins the leadership, should Labour lose, he will be Labour's Wm Hague.

My money's on Ed Miliband or - long shot - Yvette Cooper.

javelin said...

Yep. A good analysis but not a full one.

On the trading floor where I work the general view is that if Brown goes before a general election it could result in a hung parliament, which will mean the Conservatives will not be able to make the cuts necessary to balance the budget. If the budget cannot be balanced we will loose our A3 status and the pound will dive below Euro parity. Our standing in the world will wobble and we will fall back into a recession.

If Brown really cared about the UK he will lead Labour to defeat and try spin the austerity measures as unecessary Tory cuts.

Jabba the Cat said...

Let ZaNuLab move to Harriet Harman then the steep slope to oblivion will turn into the vertical precipice and instant free fall. One way or another ZaNuLab are toast at the next election, it only a matter of how well done.

paulstpancras said...


I might agree but a close result will mean another election in the autumn - esp if Cameron has a tiny minority. Brown won't step down he's good in opposition and could win a second election based on an unpopular Tory budget. Think Trudeau-Clark 1979-80 in Canada.

paulstpancras said...


I might agree but a close result will mean another election in the autumn - esp if Cameron has a tiny minority. Brown won't step down he's good in opposition and could win a second election based on an unpopular Tory budget. Think Trudeau-Clark 1979-80 in Canada.

adamcollyer said...

Well, it was certainly good for a laugh.

"Peter Mandelson remains an unlikely regicide, on grounds of personal loyalty"?? ROFL.

It is much too late for Labour to ditch Brown. They know it, too. Sorry, but I think this article is absolute nonsense.