Getting rid of Gordon

It was Boris Johnson who came up with the perfect phrase to describe the current state of the Labour party - though he later had to apologise profusely, as so often: "a Papua New Guinea-style orgy of cannibalism and chief-killing". If my memory serves correctly, he was talking about the Conservatives at the time, which just goes to show how far things have changed. It's a long time since Papuans went in for cannibalism, and I'm not sure chief killing was ever really their thing, but presumably Boris had in mind the kind of savage rites so memorably described by Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough. In various parts of the world - but mainly in Africa, as it happens - chiefs and kings would be put to death when their strength failed, or when the gods showed their displeasure through a series of bad harvests. For example:

The Jukos are a heathen tribe of the Benue river, a great tributary of the Niger. In their country, the town of Gatri is ruled by a king who is elected by the big men of the town as follows. When in the opinion of the big men the king has reigned long enough, they give out that "the king is sick" - a formula understood by all to mean that they are going to kill him, though the intention is never put more plainly. How long he has to reign is settled by the influential men at a meeting... The king is then told, and a great feast prepared, at which the king gets drunk on guinea-corn beer.

After that he is speared, and the man who was chosen becomes king. Thus each Juko king knows that he cannot have very many more years to live, and that he is certain of his predecessor's fate. This, however, does not seem to frighten candidates.

All strangely familiar. Such customs are quintessentially tribal, and we shouldn't be too surprised that the modern institutions that instinctively turn to purgative acts of patricide when the going gets tough are those that most closely resemble primordial tribes: political parties and football teams. But while changing their leader might make the Labour party feel better, if only briefly, it won't reduce the cost of fuel or the price of bread, it won't solve the problems in the health service caused by years of overfunding, and it won't fill the vast hole in the public finances. Some of these things are Brown's fault, and he thoroughly deserves the blame; others would face any leader. A caretaker leader, who shepherded the party to defeat in a few months' time (a quick election would be both politically unavoidable and unwinnable) would leave a miserable legacy. An untested new leader would become Labour's William Hague - promise squandered through too early fulfilment. Better to let Brown suffer.


valdemar said…
You did mean to write 'overfunding', right? If you mean too many 'managers', right on.
WeepingCross said…
But the parricidal pattern is a relatively recent development even in political parties and football clubs, isn't it? They seemed once to accept that a certain amount of failure was the price you paid for success. In fact, it may not be too wide of the mark to guess that politics has adopted the model from football. Can it all be put down to money and instant gratification?
Waltz said…
There's what's best for the Labour Party and then there's what's best for the country. They aren't necessarily the same thing. Hanging on to Brown may be best for the Labour Party, though I'd dispute this - Labour's failure to oust this walking disaster makes it look weak and self-interested, qualities that will stick to them like white on rice long after Brown is gone. But, the Labour Party aside, Brown is bad for the country. A dithering, brooding, petulant, incompetent leader, bereft of meaningful, practical ideas, is the last thing we need as we go into recession. It also means that we have an angry and frustrated population whose resentment of the government (and therefore of the Labour Party) is only going to increase.

Brown out!
The Heresiarch said…
The best thing for the country, surely, is a change of direction. Kicking out Brown would cheer some people up, but I remain convinced (and I know it's a minority opinion) that it's the government as a whole that is the walking disaster, bereft of ideas (which is why they keep nicking them off the Tories) and seriously lacking in talent. As for the angry and frustrated population: well I'm angry and frustrated, but a change of face won't make me any less so. Only a change of government would do that.
Waltz said…
Oh I definitely agree with that. We need a General Election as soon as possible, with or without Brown.

The Labour Party needs it too. It's going into opposition whatever it does now, and it's best bet for the long-term is to cut its losses. But too many MPs stand to lose their seats so they're delaying as hard as they can. Which raises some interesting and difficult questions about "career politicians" (now there's a good Heresiarch topic for you ...)

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