FINDING THE KILLER INSTINCT
The Labour Decade
We are now reaching the end of Labour’s only, ever, full decade in office. As we do, we face an electoral defeat which could well give the Conservatives the next decade and more.
It may seem easier, and possibly less risky, to do nothing to change our position. But unless Labour acts now we are likely to spend the next ten years reflecting on the consequences from the impotence of opposition.
Since 1997 Labour has built a stronger and fairer society and transformed the lives of millions of people for the better. Our record is one to be proud of. But we have also failed to exploit many opportunities to chart a progressive path for the future. And, worst of all, over the last couple of years we have frivolously and foolishly discarded our dominant position in British politics, possibly permanently. During the last year Labour’s poll ratings have hit historic lows, and the dismal European and local elections translated this into actual votes.
Senior Party members know and well understand Labour’s true position but, for a variety of reasons, have so far decided to take no action. A conspiracy of silence has protected the Party leadership.
Just before Christmas this mood seemed to change. Newspaper reports and interviews pointed to serious doubts held by Cabinet members and others. There is the possibility that Labour’s underlying position in the polls and the failures of the Queens Speech and the Pre-Budget Report may now bring matters to a head.
Labour’s underlying poll position is disastrous. The UK Polling Report calculates the current average at 40-28-19, which implies a Conservative overall majority of 36 seats. This is significantly worse than a year ago, just before the London G20 summit, when Labour was in the mid-30s and 4/5 point Tory leads were routine. Moreover, many Labour-identifying voters say that they are not prepared to vote Labour at the coming election; a big pool of lost Labour voters now back other parties and Labour supporters are more likely than Tory ones to be considering switching sides or not voting.
All the evidence suggests that Brown’s leadership reduces Labour support, that alternative leaders would improve our ratings, and that an election determined by voters’ answers to the question “Do you want Gordon Brown to be Prime Minister for the next five years?” would further shrink Labour support.
In these circumstances some clutch, bizarrely, at the straw of an occasional poll showing ‘only’ a 9 point lead for the Conservatives (even when intermingled with 17 point leads). Others hope that the Conservatives might not achieve an overall majority but merely be the largest party in a hung parliament.
But in fact such a hung parliament would offer no political respite for Labour. David Cameron has used his New Year message to signal willingness to work with the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg has already made it clear that he would feel bound to permit the Leader of the largest party to form a Government. Though senior Liberal Democrats have privately indicated that this situation might change if Labour’s leadership changed, there’s little joy for Labour here.
Policy and Political Direction
The poor political impact of the pre-election Queens Speech and the Pre-Budget Report, as well as the November European Council and other events, have reinforced awareness that Labour currently has no strategy for escaping the deep political trouble it is in.
These were moments where a clear and articulate approach could have changed the mood. Instead they were used just to recycle old political ‘dividing lines’, which reflect a deep defeatist fear of discussing both our past approach and our future plans. We offered no account and no explanation of the past and, even more seriously, no constructive sense of direction for the future.
This ‘class war’ approach is explicitly designed to rack up ‘core Labour’ votes in core Labour areas and to protect the position of the current leadership.
Labour cannot win on this basis. We have to remain a Party with the widest possible appeal, which does not rely for support simply upon one particular group, faction or social class. Since 1983 Labour’s conventional wisdom has recognized that Labour has to seek to win marginal parliamentary seats, many of them in the South of England. Those most involved in formulating the electorally successful post-1994 ‘New Labour’ strategy recognize that this winning approach is now being deliberately abandoned.
Why the Silence So Far
A small group amongst the Labour leadership, inside and outside the Cabinet, believe, genuinely, that, if the economy improves and the Tories begin to implode, the public will rally to Gordon Brown as the General Election approaches.
Others believe that the election campaign could be fought in a way which diverts attention from our leadership (“It’s policies not personalities”). Unfortunately the recent confirmation of the campaign TV debates makes this just about impossible to imagine.
However most senior Labour leaders have had little faith in Gordon Brown’s leadership for a considerable time but over the last year have remained silent, and even professed support. They have done this for a variety of reasons.
The greatest concern is that, under current constitutional arrangements, there is no clear process through which a Party leader could be forced to stand down. They fear that his stubbornness would see off any challenge and precipitate chaotic internal conflict which in turn would reinforce Labour’s image of ineffectiveness and division, possibly without succeeding in changing the Leader. They feel that success requires ‘overwhelming force’.
Others worry that, without a clear challenger/successor, a change of leader might simply be a step from the frying pan into the fire. They think that the unpredictable uncertainties of a leadership election could be damaging. In fact a 21-day campaign is quite possible and would refocus attention on what Labour has positively to offer.
There is also fear of the perceived personal costs which could arise from antagonizing the leadership. The Damian MacBride style of politics is not dead – shortly before Christmas a senior Cabinet member warned me personally to take care ‘because Gordon’s spies are everywhere’.
A deeper pessimism, fed by the MPs’ expenses catastrophe, has led to fatalism. Too many accept defeat for Labour as inevitable. They do not perceive the personal consequences for themselves as shattering. They expect to hold their seats (almost no Cabinet members now have marginal seats) and then adjust to a life in Opposition in the new Parliament. Furthermore, only a third of the current Cabinet were in Parliament before 1997 and so have any direct Parliamentary experience of the 18 years of Tory Government before then.
There are also more ignoble motives for inaction. Some are actively preparing for post-defeat Labour politics and laying down markers for their own leadership ambitions. Others are looking to their future business careers, which they think will be less possible if they are seen as ‘troublemakers’. Others, probably mistakenly, hope for the Prime Minister’s patronage in securing their membership of the House of Lords after defeat.
What is to be done
The net effect of this conspiracy of silence and inaction has been that Gordon Brown has so far been able to see off all challenges to his leadership.
As we reach 2010, rightly described by Ed Balls as ‘the most important General Election for a generation’, the implications of the status quo are crystal clear – a smashing defeat for Labour and poorer lives for the people we seek to serve.
Yet the General Election is eminently winnable for Labour under a new leader. We still have the overall policies and approach which are best suited to meet the challenges of both the current crises and the future, even though we have not recently been successful in communicating them clearly.
Moreover the Conservatives have failed to establish themselves strongly. Their threat comes only from Labour’s weakness. Their only strength is the petty point-scoring of partisan oppositionist politics, based on vigorous and misleading attacks and clever phrase-making. They are deeply divided on policy issues of the greatest significance; their demeanour is increasingly introverted, provincial and backward-looking, notably so in the international arena; they offer no policy or political vision for themselves and they inspire no confidence in their own team of political leaders.
In Parliament and elsewhere an overwhelming majority of Labour opinion believes that in this position Labour’s chances would be significantly improved if Gordon Brown were to stand down.
Over Christmas there have been signs that this strength of opinion is understood in the Cabinet. The New Year will be the time to ensure that the overwhelming feeling which does exist is turned into the action which brings about the necessary change. The price of failure is just too high.
Doing nothing now may seem the easiest option. But Labour should learn from the Tories, who have had many whole decades in power: political parties need the killer instinct to hold on to office. David Cameron’s Conservatives are relying on Labour failing to learn that lesson.
From the beginning of 2010 we need a renewed Labour Party which can offer the people of Britain a genuine and positive choice at the ballot box.
Charles Clarke MP
I shall look forward to what LabourList, LabourHome and Left Foot Forward have to say about this rather interesting intervention.
If Charles Clarke thinks that Labour have built a stronger fairer society, then he has been on the magic mushrooms over Christmas.
That is a load of bollocks dressed with a huge dollop of shite.
1 million more British people on benefits Mr Clarke - you crummy lying bastard. Youth unemployment? Poverty? Education? I confess we seem good at educating mass terrorists.
You great sodding ignoramus Mr Clarke - your labour party numpties and the shell suit brigade (brought up in a decade of labour illiteracy might be thick enough to believe you) but the facts which you have precious little grasp of (as evinced by your total incompetence in office) tell a different story.
Labours only decade in office have totally shafted what was once a great country. Go and stick you head down the toilet where it belongs.
Pretty spot on
Poor old Charlie, always two steps behind.
I think everyone has realised that the Labour Party would do very well indeed to lose the next election.
A Conservative victory will see that party disintegrate over the following four years and become unelectable for the foreseeable future.
Right now, we should all be feeling the economic pain. Thanks to Gordon Brown's scorched earth policies we are not really noticing the recession - unless you've become unemployed - and house prices, that singularly English measure of economic wellbeing, are stable.
But all this has to be paid for and the year that we have spent in denial will make the ensuing payback years almost unbearable.
The cuts in public services, that tax increases and the rise in interest rates and inflation over the next decade will make the Thirties look tame. And of course, Cameron and Osborne will be at the helm.
People will remember that during the recession things were not half bad, but during the "recovery" things have taken a turn for the worse under the Tories.
The inevitable double dip recession will be put down squarely to the Tories economic incompetence and Goodnight Vienna...
Cameron's last chance is to state this case as simply and as loudly as he can, as often as he can. Even if this negativity reduces his chances of winning, so be it.
Unless, of course, he does a Brownie and asks Gordon to be Chancellor...
Whatever his motives, it's difficult not to agree with much of his analysis.
Between this and your pushing regularly of senior Labour figures blogs and thoughts, I sometimes wonder whether you truly are a Tory.
There is little to agree with in Clarkes post, which is basically a puff piece on Labours disastrous 13 years and call to get rid of Brown.
I suppose this will mean another plug for Alastair Campbells rants and delusions in the daily dozen to make up for someone disagreeing with your analysis?
"Since 1997 Labour has built a stronger and fairer society and transformed the lives of millions of people for the better. Our record is one to be proud of." ?????????
As soon as I read that line I couldn't stop laughing.
Houdini, His analysis of Brown's position is spot on. Thats what I meant. But you knew that.
Trevorsden has just summed it up for me and millions of others I suspect.I truely cant think of anything this lying shower of shit have done for anyone elses benefit in their nearly 13 years of misrule
Brown is in the shite because the labour party gave him carte blanche to ruin Britain. Clarke is a lying despicable hypocrite.
Clarke has spent 13 years either nodding Browns disasters through our pretending they do not exist.
He is in the labour party HE is responsible for our utter and completely f***ed up state, and playing musical chairs at this stage is tantamount to waving his dick in our faces.
Stop repeat STOP treating these lying bastards with any sort of respect. With virtually the entire labour party signing Browns nomination papers and after all Browns plotting against his predecessor - supported by most of the labour party - does he really expect us to be grateful if a band of self serving dimwits remove him NOW?
The damage to our country has been done long ago and Clarke is as guilty as any.
Interesting in what sense? Clarke saying something supportive, now that would be a newsflash.
'1 million more British people on benefits Mr Clarke.'
Probably because there are more benefits.
Yeah he might be right about Brown but Clarke's level of delusion made me disregard that entirely.
"Since 1983 Labour’s conventional wisdom has recognized that Labour has to seek to win marginal parliamentary seats, many of them in the South of England."
I'll be very surprised if Labour (with or without Gordon as Leader) wins more than a handful of seats in the south: probably a few in London, Portsmouth/Southampton and maybe north Kent.
I can't see Gordon going quietly - and if he was pursuaded to step down, I doubt if any of the putative leaders would step aside to let one take the 'crown' unchallenged. Labour would go into civil war - 5 months before an election.
Fascinating to see him having so much to say about Brown a mere six months after his answer to the question "Will you tell us what you think about Mr Brown?" was "No" (which can be enjoyed on the video clip at http://bit.ly/2nYbTm).
Not that their woes since Brown took over surprises me in the least, as I warned against him more than 5 years ago (http://bit.ly/2JvM6p).
There's also the small matter of his pensions robbery, for which voters of a certain age (like me) will never forgive him (http://bit.ly/c1O14).
"Since 1997 Labour ... transformed the lives of millions of people"
Yes indeed they have, the b*****ds! They've certainly transformed mine! If they do any more transforming it will be time to pack up and leave.
"We are now reaching the end of Labour’s only, ever, full decade"
Err... it was a decade 3 years ago, it's now 13 years and before any pedants come galloping along to tell me that Clarke means a "calendar decade" then that will not wash either. The calendar decade ends on 31st Dec 2010 and Labour will not get that far.
"Labour’s underlying poll position is disastrous."
Finally, something that Clarke got right!
Ho humm, it's Charles Clarke, of course he's going to be critical of Gordon Brown.
It's a bit like Ted Heath's comments on Thatcher, whatever sensible points he would make were hidden by the bitterness. The time's long gone that anyone in the Labour Party seriously listens to Charles Clarke.
Well, Iain his analysis of Brown's position may be accurate, but his strategic and tactical vision is poor.
It is far too late to strike a convincing 'new' position. Equally it is far too late to turf Brown out. Both options would be disastrous.
This is a post-election bid. Clarke knows full well that the race for leadership is on, and he's positioning himself - possibly for the top job, but certainly with a view to power-broking.
Next we can expect to see the Unions offering their views. One wonders if they seriously believe that Brown can win. Meanwhile, Mandleson slithers around in the shadows.
It is funny that Charles Clarke likes to lecture about how labour should campaign, yet managed to win just one County Council seat this year in his constituency, and that was on a strong personal vote for a very well known Labour candidate.
Perhaps if they promised a referendum on EU membership they might win. But then who would believe them (or the other two)?
john miller said...
"The cuts in public services, that tax increases and the rise in interest rates and inflation over the next decade will make the Thirties look tame. And of course, Cameron and Osborne will be at the helm.
People will remember that during the recession things were not half bad, but during the "recovery" things have taken a turn for the worse under the Tories.
The inevitable double dip recession will be put down squarely to the Tories economic incompetence and Goodnight Vienna..."
So we should all vote Labour, just to ensure they get the crap when it finally goes wrong!
It is increasingly bizarre that articles from senior New Labour figures attempting to analyse their party's predicament never mention the biggest elephant in the room.
@trevorsden: He's hardly going to write a message that goes "I've been thoroughly mistaken for my entire political career, I regret all the effort I've put into the Labour Party, and I'm defecting". He has beliefs virtually everyone reading this will strongly disagree with, but he is at least sincere and inasmuch as that matters apt to be right.
And in a strange sort of way, despite the Conservative candidate in Norwich South at the next election being one of the very best there is, I would be very sad indeed to see a parliament without Charles Clarke.
I guess the big question is whether the rest of the parliamentary Labour party are prepared to wait for the inevitable to happen.
Assuming they're not, who is going to be the one to tell Gordon it's time to go (and would he pay any attention to that advice?)
I therefore think we can sit back and enjoy several months of in-fighting, prior to a resounding defeat in the General Election.
Charles Clarke is right. Labour are going to be out of office for over a decade.
"He's hardly going to write a message that goes 'I've been thoroughly mistaken for my entire political career'".
I think that is a bit harsh. There is still time for him to realise (like many others before him) that the Left is grounded in little more than hatred and arrogance.
Stronger and fairer society? From the point of view of the under-taxed, privileged, law-immune ruling class, maybe. For the rest of us, it has been an unbearably depressing decade of gross injustice.
For "progressive", read "constitution-destroying", as opposed to "backward-looking".
Otherwise, he makes some fair points.
Fortunately, he'll be ignored and Labour will be binned.
I tend to broadly agree with him except for one of his opening sentences: "Since 1997 Labour has built a stronger and fairer society and transformed the lives of millions of people for the better."
Presumably those millions who are now on benefits.
What a load of (Ed)Balls!
I see the Big Ears thinks the Fib Dems are still hedging their bets and are prepared to support a minority Labour/IMF govt.
That will be useful on the door step.
" The Damian MacBride style of politics is not dead "
Charles, mate, just so you know. That is the Gordon Brown style of politics.
Damian was just the organ-grinder's monkey.
I am not gona worry at all about "Labour built a stronger fairer society" nonsense or his last 16 lines which in all honesty 'did we really expected him to say we were any good' NO!!
The beauty of this letter is the the timing and the heart of it (Labour is on its way out, they are demoralised disillusioned and they know and feel it). The coming decade is ours, and they know when we get in we stay for very, very long time. Why? because we are not afraid to send our leaders packing if they mess up, and as long as we keep our eyes on the ball and not lose sight of what really matters to the voters they can not vote us out.
Iain, you are so wrong about your earlier prediction by the way. We are going to win the election but with a lot more seats than you predicted. We will win with closer to 80 seats majority. Why? because we are pumped and focused and the the seats that really matter will bare fruit come election night, Happy New Year my friend x
Leaving aside the partisan comments that one has to expect, if the article is to have any readers in the bunker and its surrounds, this is a good appraisal of the state of the party, remember when this could have been written about the Tory party.
I agree with most of the comments he is stingy with the expected majority, as are you Iain, as between now and the election Jonah will make more and more errors as the reality of his situation sinks in.
Walaa, I have just placed a tidy sum with a well known firm of bookmakers that we will have two general elections next year.
So don't count your chickens yet.
My reasoning - Broon will go for a March election to benefit from some good economic news before the brown stuff hits the fans when the new tax year starts.
He'll manage to get the Lib/Dems to support him in a hung parliament, but it'll all go tits up.
Another general election Octobreish when the Conservatives will then romp in but ... Davy boy won't be leading them!!!
'a smashing defeat for Labour and poorer lives for the people we seek to serve.'
The height of either sanctimony or cynicism! It's very clear to all of us up here in the Labour heart lands that the 'people' Labour politicians seek to serve are themselves..plasma telly anyone? No arguing with it thought a 'smashing' Labour defeat will leave their lives poorer.
Clarke is correct. But I doubt the Labour party will do anything. Probably too late now to shift themselves ,the habit of paralysis and accepting of McDoom just to strong.
Easier just to await their fate.
Anyway, it raises the question of who would replace him. Balls and Harman are lunatics and of all the rest there just isn't anyone who stands out.
Same old problem .
Face it, they lack the dynamism to do anything. Its more comfortable to nothing.
Leave Labour's deplorable record to one side for the moment. Charles Clarke is fearful for Labour's prospects in the forthcoming General Election (as he should be), and wants to decrease the scale of Labour's losses by replacing a party leader in whom he no longer has faith.
This is *never* advisable in the run-up to a General Election. The campaigning for the leadership will make the Party appear weak, divided and unsure of its own purpose: the precise opposite of the impression it needs to convey at that point in the electoral cycle.
My recollection of Conservative Party history is imprecise, and I'm disinclined to look it up at the moment, but it was something like this:
John Major stepped down as leader, after what happened in the 1997 election. His successor, William Hague, stood down in 2001, after the Conservatives failed to improve their position substantially. Similarly, Iain Duncan Smith led the Party until 2005.
I'm far from sanguine about the direction being taken by David Cameron. I believe the setbacks suffered in 1997, 2001 and 2005 were down to Tony Blair's star factor much more than his policies. Indeed, now the Labour Party lustre has well and truly tarnished, David Cameron's somewhat similar mannerisms are more a hinderance than a selling point. Nonetheless, you cannot ask David to step aside now, not even if Peter Mandelson were to burst out of his chest like a monster from the film Aliens.
Similarly, Labour can't avoid electoral defeat by hurriedly switching leader now. This close to an election, a move like that would just make their losses even worse.
The Labour Party has been kind enough to "twin" my CLP with that of Charles Clarke and will be twisting our arms to put most of our resources into trying to save him rather than trying to get our own PPC elected.
Whilst some of what he says is true nobody has much doubt that his motives are based on his own bitterness and I cannot see too many of us shooting to Norwich to help him out.
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