Saturday, June 06, 2009

Ask not for whom the bell tolls...

You'll have noticed HM Government has been having a spot of bother? I liked David Clark's piece on the limits of loyalty:
"All political parties owe their leaders a debt of loyalty. Without it, politics as a collective democratic endeavour would be virtually impossible. That loyalty necessarily involves a degree of compromise and sacrifice, but it can never be unconditional and cannot therefore include an obligation to charge headlong into the electoral equivalent of the valley of death. That is effectively what Gordon Brown will be asking Labour to do if he tries to stick it out as prime minister after yesterday's drubbing at the polls."
Yep - the loyalty being shown to Brown by Milliband and the rest looks about as rational as shackling yourself to a corpse. Clark also make the point that just because Purnell is a slimy git (I paraphrase), this doesn't mean his analysis is wrong. One could add that Brown demanding loyalty rather grates, given the egregious disloyalty he showed towards Blair.

Blairites understandably trace the origins of Brown's slow torturous political death to this - but I reckon this is in turn a symptom of something else. Prediction is unwise given how fast events are unfolding but I reckon Brown will decline David Clark's invitation to 'fall on his sword' for as long a humanly possible - and perhaps even longer. For it is superhuman obstinacy our Prime Minister seems to possess. The question is: why would anyone want to do this to themselves, never mind their party or their country? Matthew Parris says Brown is propelled solely by "anger and pride", which may well be psychologically correct but is, again, a symptom rather than a cause.

Brown combines a belief in his right to rule with an aversion to elections. This is an obvious contradiction to contain within the one political personality and hitherto only managed to exist without exploding because it has been sheltered from democratic normality within the world of the Scottish Labour party. This, it goes without saying, has nothing to do with the 'Scottish character' but everything to do with the fact that Labour has governed Scotland uninterrupted since the 1950s until the last Holyrood election. This history left the Labour party dominated by a generation of politicians who were both used to power and unaccustomed to competitive elections. Brown is simply the exemplar of this political culture - Scottish Labour incarnate. But in the context of genuinely competitive politics, these dispositions and assumptions must by definition collide. The result is not, I think everyone now agrees, a very pretty sight.

So the question now for Labour is this: not who leads the Labour party so much as how will it govern itself? It is a problem they will almost certainly have to work out in opposition. One hopes that in the inevitable autopsy, members will argue less about whether the party is left-wing enough or 'modernising' enough but rather is it democratic enough? The answer is no and resolving this requires the party to dispense with its present culture of networks of patronage and loyalty surrounding personalities that have no ideological differences - having none for the simple reason that they dispensed with them at a point too long ago for anyone to recall. It tolls for Scottish Labour.

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