Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A bad day to bury good news

With Jacqui Smith quitting the Cabinet, yesterday ought to have been a good news day for Gordon Brown. After all, here was an unpopular and, by general consent, fairly useless home secretary, even before her headline-grabbing involvement in the expenses scandal. He was going to move her on in any case - now, he can do so without being accused of acting with undue ruthlessness towards someone who, as Iain Dale reminded us yesterday, is a "thoroughly nice woman".

And today, it should have got even better for the Weltskanzler, with the resignation of Hazel Blears (another Dale favourite). Blears, let it not be forgotten, was involved in a blatant (although technically "within the rules") piece of tax avoidance. And that's leaving aside the multiple home-flipping, or the two outsize TVs she thought it entirely appropriate for taxpayers to pay for. Her behaviour was labelled "totally unacceptable" by her own leader. He might have sacked her there and then - but she had her devoted supporters who, even after she had appeared on TV, permagrin still in place, to wave around her cheque, were warning Brown of dire consequences if he had the temerity to sack her. He was faced with an invidious choice: keep on a discredited, morally compromised minister whose ability to grate on the nerves of a large proportion of the electorate is rivalled only by her lack of self-knowledge; or dump her, as she deserved to be dumped, and face the wrath of the depleted, but still menacing, sisterhood of the Blair babes.

In the event he doesn't have to. She's resigned of her own accord - just before, if the Telegraph's sources are to be believed (biggish "if", admittedly) new, even more embarrassing revelations were to have been revealed. She went before she was sacked. Only the timing is a surprise.

The second useless, annoying Cabinet minister goes in the space of two days. Two snouts removed from the trough. Two fewer offenders against the prime minister's famous Presbyterian conscience. Two spaces around the Cabinet table for cleaner, fresher faces. A chance to cleanse the government, to embark on the process of radical reform unencumbered by embarrassing reminders of New Labour sleaze. How is this bad for Gordon Brown?

And yet, of course, it is. The overwhelming consensus tonight is that the loss of the little-lamented Blears is a body-blow from which Brown can not now recover. He'll be gone, says the smart money, within a week. Alistair Darling, himself mired in the expenses scandal, is threatening to do a Geoffrey Howe if Brown so much as dares to offer him the Home Office. Extraordinary. He should be composing his letter of resignation right now.

For a discredited minister to resign, whether through personal impropriety or incompetence (or merely as a fall gal) should not be a reflection on anyone except her. Somehow Blears has managed to use her inevitable and deserved resignation as a weapon. It is the political equivalent of a suicide bombing, and she presents herself as some sort of martyr. That's either evidence of unsuspected political genius on her part or quite breathtaking blundering on Brown's. I incline towards the latter suggestion - but, even so, it's hard to credit that Hazel can come out of this affair looking like the victim. Jackie Ashley puts her departure down to Brown's "problem with women". And indeed he does appear at to have a problem with women plotting against him. He must feel like Jack Nicholson towards the end of The Witches of Eastwick.

Gordon Brown still has his supporters. Here's Madeleine Bunting:


But back from the fray, beyond the fierce media competition to "set the agenda" (that hallowed media fixation), forcing Brown into a Labour leadership battle is a form of delusional madness. It would tie the party up in an internal argument in which no one else in the country is remotely interested.

Labour is exhausted – its morale, intellectual energy, sense of purpose and faith in itself: all have run out. The idea that a bunch of leadership election candidates can be spirited out of this shattered cabinet to offer a promise of renewal and regeneration is a fantasy.


Her conclusion: "We don't want Brown to go right now: he needs to get stuck in to sorting out the mess."

That wouldn't be my conclusion. But the point is well taken. Gordon Brown may be a terrible prime minister, but anyone else on offer would be worse. Alan Johnson, the most likely candidate, seems amiable enough. He appears to have few enemies. But he's one of those people - like John Major, perhaps - who rise without trace. In office he would quickly prove to be a nonentity. Labour are doomed in any event. They make the last days of Major's government look as disciplined as Frederick the Great's Prussia.

Gordon Brown has one weapon left in his arsenal. He could call an election. He could take a trip to the Palace on Friday morning and request a dissolution, which the queen would be obliged to grant. He'd lose, of course: but he's out in any case. And any successor would be forced to call an election by the autumn anyway.

Calling an election would unite the Labour party, at least temporarily. It would sweep out of Parliament most of the dead wood. It would give the country the change it needs. It would be a public acknowledgement that the voters still matter. It would lance the boil. It would catch the opposition parties, who are completely unprepared for an election, off their guard. And it would save Gordon Brown from the ignominy of being deposed by his own colleagues without ever facing the electorate.

4 comments:

Irina from Dublin said...

Ticks all the right boxes, political suicide bomb (I fear for the 72 male virgins that await her), permagrin, etc etc, has Salford a big "postal voting" community?

valdemar squelch said...

Cut to the chase - what would the election result be if it were called for this autumn? Tory majority of, say, thirty? Seems very unlikely. Hung parliament? Dodgy deals with the Lib Dems? I don't know but I think we should be told!

asquith said...

Did you follow up your threat & vote for UKIP?

The Heresiarch said...

Asquith, the way the ballot paper was folded up I didn't even realise they were standing ;)