Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Labour's fortunes: the meltdown continues...

They come not as single spies... Following hot on the heels of local election results that have exhausted most of the euphemisms and synonyms that bloggers and journalists routinely use to describe "complete fucking disaster", early accident reports are alerting us to another car crash developing north of the border.

This has to do with our Wendy's Damascene conversion to the joys of referendums - especially ones that have to do with the future of the Union.

Hitherto, her approach to such constitutional frivolities might have been described as less than enthusiastic - a little frosty, even.

I've been enormously impressed with her transformation because now she is positively hot for the idea. So hot, she is unprepared to wait the two years that the SNP have given - she wants one now. "Come ahead if you think you're hard enough", she screamed, tanked up on Buckfast. "I'll have the lot of you SNP bastards, so I will." She later added that if they tried to get wide, her pal Gordon would kick fuck out of the lot of them.

Ok, what she really said was, "Bring it on" and that she'd spoken to Gordon Brown who supported her call for a referendum but if you go with the metaphor, it'll be easier to catch the music of what happened here. By most accounts the Labour party in Scotland's foreknowledge of this announcement has been estimated to have been in the region of slightly less than fuck all. It also turns out that Gordon isn't entirely sure what the fuck is going on either and also that he isn't quite sure what to do about it - so no change there.

Since their incompetence has been already, and is now more than ever, having implications for the future of the Union (you know, like starting a game - and then proceeding to kick the ball directly to Alex Salmond's feet), the case for their removal is as overwhelming as it is urgent.

In this I'd have to dissent from the 'Labour has been hollowed-out by the Blairites' thesis such as you'll find expounded here and here. We're always being told that parties are collapsing, their grassroots withering on the vine. We were told this about the Tory party under Hague and IDS. Like the Church of England and the monarchy, it was suggested that we couldn't assume that the zeitgeist would retain their services indefinitely.

Philosophically true, I'd agree - but it seems a little arrogant in retrospect given the state of play now. The withering of the grassroots is a phenomenon that has afflicted political parties across Europe and certainly in Britain. But so what if parties are 'hollowed-out'? They are still going to compete in elections and someone has to win. Those whose prognosis relies on an analysis of the state the parties are in make some acute observations - but they understate the importance of leadership. For those of us who are sympathetic to Labour, ours is a disaster that simply can't be dismissed as a function of a palsied grassroots. Over and above the general malaise in party politics, Gordon Brown and Wendy Alexander are singularly unsuited to the roles they find themselves in and should go as soon as possible. It could be, and has been, objected that this won't transform the party's prospects. This is probably true - but I'm arguing that they should go as a matter of principle. The reasons for Brown staying on in particular look to me desperate and threadbare - his supposed merits, I can't discern. Here's my objections, in no particular order - and no doubt making no particular sense - to Gordon Brown's leadership:

1) All these mental commentators keep writing this crap about Gordon needing to come out, be true to himself, get in touch with his inner-socialist etc. Leaving aside the question as to whether this would be desirable, surely it's obvious by now that this re-birth isn't going to happen? And one of the reasons this isn't going to happen is this...

2) Gordon Brown can't make decisions. This is something of a drawback for any Prime Minister, I'd have thought. This is no media invention - it's an observable character trait. He made one good decision - making the Bank of England independent. He had years to prepare for this. Since then, what? He couldn't decide whether to knife Blair when he was weak in the aftermath of Iraq. Then, having got the job he always wanted, he couldn't decide whether to have another election or not. Then in the face of belated opposition from his own party, he can't quite decide whether his decision to make our tax system more regressive than it already is was the thing to do after all. Does he favour a referendum on Scotland's future? Why expect clarity from someone who can't quite make make up his mind on the whole handling Olympic torches thing?

3) Guardianistas find in him qualities that I simply don't recognise as such. Like the whole 'Son o' the Manse' thing. Could somebody please explain why this is supposed to be a good thing? I hate the Church of Scotland and I hate Calvinism - why am I being invited to find a Prime Minister that comes with these influences desirable? Because I really don't. Qualification: one of the good things about the Calvinist tradition is a commitment to equality and democracy. Which brings me to the last point...

4) Gordon, as his fiscal policy demonstrates, doesn't do equality. And his elevation to party leader didn't exactly scream democracy either. Neither did Wendy's. Two completely useless leaders - both elected unopposed. This is no coincidence and I don't quite see what is supposed to be 'Blairite' or 'New Labour' about this dismal state of affairs because it is part of a complacent Labour tradition where the selectorate is the electorate. There is nothing new about this - it is a tradition that Scotland has practiced for decades. While no doubt some sociologist or social historian would argue this has some benefits, it would be difficult to maintain that the promotion of talent could be counted as one of them.

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