Friday, July 25, 2008

Jeremiad

They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace - Jeremiah ch 8 v 11
You'd have good reason to ignore the apocalyptic tone of the following post. I might be over-compensating for my failure to predict the SNP win in Glasgow East. There is also the fact that I've spent the last ten hours sweltering in traffic with a six year old and a face swollen with toothache. But even without these exacerbating factors, I would be sick at heart tonight because I take the view that for once the rhetoric of the SNP mirrors reality: this result really is an earthquake and I have the feeling the after-shocks will be felt for many years to come, for generations to come.

I find it heart-breaking that the analysis thus far has been so short-term, so self-interested, so petty-minded - focused as it is on Brown's future and Labour's prospects at the next election when what is really happening is a strange eruption in Britain's political firmament. Gordon, apparently, has dismissed leadership speculation with the assurance that he's "getting on with the job". But you're shit at it, Gordon. Unbelievably shit. So shit you could say we're being confronted with being shit as a form of excellence. Consider the implications: we have lost a seat that has been returning Labour MPs since the 1920s. The third safest seat in Scotland. The fifth in Britain. I'm afraid the SNP are correct to say there is now no such thing as a safe Labour seat anymore.

It should go without saying that Brown should go now - not because this will necessarily improve Labour's prospects at the next election. No, as I've said before, as a matter of principle. But the PLP won't get rid of him, of course - they are, as Oliver Kamm rightly says, the 'sentimental party'.

How late it is, how very late - yet the complacency on display thus far has been absolutely shocking, astounding. And I don't just mean the Brownites - what else would you expect of people like Douglas Alexander? No, I mean the Blairites too. Feeling pleased with themselves, apparently. How dare they, how dare they? Shame on them. Take this nauseating piece from John Rentoul, for example:
"This morning's result in Glasgow is the worst possible for Gordon Brown and the best possible for the Labour Party. A margin of 365 votes is so close that it means that, if almost anybody else had been Prime Minister, Labour would have held the seat."
How wrong is it possible to be? This wrong, apparently. Had Labour held by a few hundred votes with some Blair clone at the helm we are being asked to believe this would represent a victory, a vindication of triangulation? No, no - and here it's worth while asking who is the author of this historic failure? Blair. Who felt beholden to some undemocratic deal made in some fucking London pasta joint? Blair. Who lacked the balls to sack him despite his egregious disloyalty? Blair. Remind me who endorsed Brown's leadership bid again? Oh that's right - it was Blair.

And who, anyway, is the author of the left-behind society? Because it was this that the voters of Glasgow east recoiled against. Disappointing for the Blairites no doubt but I'm afraid there's precious little evidence that the personality of Gordon Brown was much of an issue on the doorsteps of Easterhouse, of the Gallowgate, of Ballieston. Crime was, housing was, drugs were. Despite his frankly Victorian solutions, it was the Tory IDS who drew more attention to the problems of this part of my city than any Labour MP ever did all the years Tony Blair was Prime Minister. This should be a source of shame for the Labour party in Scotland. They have healed the wound of the people lightly - because they thought they were like African-Americans and the Democrats: take them for granted because they have nowhere else to go.

But unlike African-Americans, Glaswegians have devolution - and devolution brought with it a proportional voting system. I think it would be fair to say that Scottish Labour have yet to come to terms with the shock this has brought. Labour in Scotland advocated both because they perceived them to be in their interests and pushed a soft nationalist line to this effect. This is what now has come back to haunt them. They sought to not so subtlety de-legitimize decisions made by the Westminster Parliament on the unconstitutional grounds that a majority of Scottish MPs failed to give their consent. They shouldn't complain now when the Tories play the same card - yet they do.

Even had devolution been constructed with impeccable federal balance, there was always the danger that it would set in motion a dynamic of which its authors had no control. How much more with a constitutional settlement that has almost none of these virtues? Once upon a time under Tory rule there was a truism oft-repeated that Labour were the most Unionist party in Scotland. Yet I can't rid myself of the feeling that this party of the Union has unwittingly become the author of its demise.

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