Sunday, May 18, 2008

Replacing Brown?

There is an awful lot of speculation about Brown resigning (very, very unlikely) or being challenged for the Leadership. I can't see it, for several reasons:
(i) There is no obvious alternative. Certainly there are plenty of names being bandied around: Jack Straw, David (or even Ed) Milliband, Ed Balls, Charles Clarke, Alan Milburn, Alan Johnson, James Purnell (God help us all...), David Burnham, Uncle Tom Cobley... But none of these is the obvious successor (the phrase "all chiefs and no Indians" comes to mind). This might make for: (a) a game of wait-and-see with each hoping one of the others will make the challenge (on the principle that "he who wields the dagger fails to win the crown", what one might call "the Heseltine principle") which will benefit Brown - if no one is actually first to step forward, and/or (ii) a messy battle for the succession.
(ii) Anyone replacing Brown inherits the same problems. A new Leader cannot "magic away" the credit crunch and falling house prices, and the increase in the price of oil and food. A new Leader will still face the problem of trying to lead the party to a fourth election victory (which has only been achieved once in the 20C, in 1992). Whoever it is will be someone who has been (even if he is not now) a Cabinet Minister, and can no more claim to be untainted by any percieved Labour failures than can Brown.
(iii) Who would want the job? With Labour trailing in the polls, cruising for election defeat, it could be a short-lived Leadership (although a new Leader could pin the blame for defeat on his predecessor). Most likely candidates will probably wait until after the next election (if Labour loses Brown will go, if there is a hung Parliament he will go, and if Labour wins with a much reduced majority - who can say?).
(iv) A party which changes Leader rather too often looks like it has lost its way. To lose one Leader might be a misfortune, but to lose two, one so soon after the other, and so close to an election, begins to look like carelessness...
(v) Even if Labour loses Crewe and Nantwich, which seems likely (although it will be very close) Brown has the blessing that the summer is almost upon us. Politics will be suspended for a couple of months. When everyone returns - from Cape Cod or Scotland or wherever - it will be, what, a year-and-a-half at most from the General Election? And leaving an election to the last minute makes the Government look "frit" and gives no room to recover if things go pear-shaped (not that they aren't already) in the last few months. It's a bit late to be changing Generals.
(vi) Some are arguing that it might be a good thing if Labour lost next time, rather than scrape through and suffer obliteration the time after that, and lose office for a generation. It will, the argument goes, give Labour time to regroup and redefine its goals - best done in Opposition. If Cameron proves a busted flush in office Labour can lose the next one, win after that, and perhaps secure a second or third term thereafter. This it seems to me is a very optimistic scenario, and if it were me I wouldn't bet the farm on it. If the Tories win next time they could be there for a very long time. True, they will inherit an economy in difficulty, but they can blame the previous Labour Government for that (after ten years Labour can't play this card so easily).
Politaholic is not optimistic, but I think Labour will have to soldier on with Brown, and try to use the summer to figure out what to do next...


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12:17 pm  

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