Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What were they thinking?

Today's events were topped off by a new YouGov poll showing Labour at 31% - just 9 points behind the Tories - part of the trend since the party conferences last autumn, where we've been slowly clawing our way back. We need around 34% to be able to be in with a shout of forming a government.

Amid this trend, and with the public recoiling from the giant airbrushed David Cameron pictures unleashed on them, why on earth did Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon suddenly decide to mount a coup?

It wasn't just Labour members who were taken aback, backbench MPs were irritated too. So why did they do it? If they really believe that Labour is heading for defeat, why not let Brown take the hit, and then go for a full-scale leadership election after the general election? The clue was in their belief that a change of leader could happen within just 21 days, decided by the PLP and with a single candidate. In other words they are afraid of Labour's electoral college.

Labour is structured differently to other parties. A full scale leadership election involves having to win a majority across three electoral colleges - the PLP, the constituency members and the affiliates. In this post-financial meltdown world, I can say with some confidence that the chances of the membership and affiliates electing an arch-Blairite are slim to non-existent. The party will either go for a clean unifying moderate who is not part of any faction, someone like Ed Miliband, or the party will go left.

This means that the only chance for a David Miliband or James Purnell to win is to stage a coup where it's all decided by the PLP. The coups keep failing for the same reason - because they are being staged by the arch-Blairites. The PLP is not stupid. They don't really want to upset their activists, who do the leaflet delivery out of altruism rather than careerism. They can also see the dangers of having an arch-Blairite lead us into defeat (and if we change leaders we will certainly be defeated, simply for treating the voters like idiots with presidential/personality politics - voters don't buy this presidential business, they know that in the UK we elect parties).

Gordon Brown is actually a very important transitional figure in our party, a bridge between our past and our future. He's essentially holding the ring, holding it all together. If an arch-Blairite led us into defeat, there would be a reaction sharply leftwards in the leadership election afterwards. I'm sure this is why Peter Mandelson keeps defending Brown. If Brown toook the hit on behalf of the party, then it's likely a fresh moderate such as Ed Miliband would be elected by the membership. But the best way to keep Labour moderate and thus where the voters are, is for Brown to actually win the general election. That way when he retires, a moderate centrist has a very good chance of succeeding him. Governing keeps you moderate, opposition is when the loonies come out of the woodwork - see the 1980's for Labour and the early part of this century for the Tories.

The arch-Blairites kinda sorta know that their era is coming to a close, but can't come to terms with it. The irony about these repeated coups is that if some non-factional person with integrity staged them - someone like John Denham - people would follow. But who would follow a Geoff Hoon, or a Hazel Blears?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Tories bank on an Airbrushed David Cameron

Looks like the Tories have already started their election campaign, spending £500,000 on a poster campaign trying to get as much spending done before the election starting gun is fired (when election spending regulations will apply for the duration of the campaign).

What is interesting about their campaign is that even the Conservative party logo was omitted from the posters, and the Daily Mail reports today that the poster of David Cameron was airbrushed.

Instead the emphasis is all on Cameron - giant photo of him, (airbrushed because he's vain and fake obviously!) with the words "I'll cut the deficit not the NHS".

It's a very risky strategy. First of all the airbrushing plays into the narrative that Cameron is a phony con-man. Slippery. Fake. The emphasis on "I" rather than "We" suggests he believes in an imperial presidency rather than parliamentary government and the giant photos of himself suggest delusions of grandeur. Even Blair at his height only had a (non-airbrushed) picture of himself on the Labour manifesto booklet, never on giant posters. And he always appeared next to the word "Labour" with our logo prominent.

Then after suggesting fakery with his airbrushing, Cameron invokes the NHS. This might have worked had there not been the sight last summer of Tories going abroad trashing the NHS on American TV, disloyally talking Britain down as well as slamming a well-loved institution - and Cameron not even feeling the need to withdraw the whip from them. Who will believe him on the NHS now? Even if he offered a "cast-iron guarantee" about it.

I am feeling more cheerful about the prospects of the coming general election than I have for a while.