Usually at this time of year political stories are thin on the ground with the long Parliamentary recess and MPs on holiday. While there aren’t that many stories this Summer the one story that is around is big enough to keep journalists and bloggers amused. It seems that the harder Blair tried to keep a lid on speculation about his departure, the more speculation there was. Everyone was waiting for Gordon Brown to make his move and when he finally did the shit hit the fan.
Now the slow train wreck that was New Labour has speeded up to real time and we are being treated to that rare spectacle of a political party tearing itself apart. This was widely predicted and Tony Blair only has himself to blame for this situation by not providing us with a date for his departure sooner. It was inevitable that his hand would be forced and equally inevitable that when it was a civil war would ensue. This may well turn out to be a good thing in the end because the Labour Party desperately needs to change. A simple hand over of power or ‘coronation’ to Gordon Brown would change nothing very much. There needs to be a contest and a battle of ideas. Not that the favourites in the list of potential candidates have anything new to offer. Gordon Brown is still expected to win the leadership. As a co-architect of New Labour with Blair his tenure would offer only cosmetic differences. He is an enthusiastic atlantacist and pro Israel although he is unlikely to be a sycophantic as Tony Blair. Whether he would distance himself from the neo con imperialist wars in the Middle East is very much open to question. Brown is also not particularly pro European and may well continue the privatisation of our public services.
However, his clear run at the top job has been dealt a cruel blow by the former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke (aka the Safety Elephant) who has unleashed two unprecedented attacks on the Chancellor. In the first attack he accused Brown of being “absolutely stupid” for failing to prevent MPs rebelling over Blair’s refusal to give a firm indication of when he intends to leave office. The second attack came in an interview in today’s Telegraph in which he called the Chancellor a deluded control freak, lacking in courage and with psychological issues to resolve. These attacks may well damage Brown’s chances as there is more than an element of truth in the accusations, although coming from Charles Clarke…
Gordon Brown does seem to lack courage, he attacks the Prime minister from the shadows and through other people, and when there is a crisis he is nowhere to be found. He is like Macavity: The Mystery Cat in the T.S. Eliot poem rather than the Cheshire cat whose grin he emulated after his encounter with Blair. Gordon Brown is also unpopular with the electorate. Tony Blair now seems to be openly opposed to Brown succeeding him:
Allies suggested Mr Blair was so angry at Mr Brown that he would now prefer David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, or John Reid, the Home Secretary, to succeed him. “He wants anyone but Gordon,” a senior Downing Street adviser said.
It might look like an “anyone but Brown” campaign is being waged by Downing Street, but there is one candidate who Blair will never support. John McDonnell is the only truly left-wing MP challenging Brown for the Leadership, but at 100/1 his chances are slim indeed.
Blair is now trying again to end the in-fighting in his party. I suspect that this will only increase tensions or at best allow for a shaky truce which will soon be broken. As the Labour Party conference draws near things can only get worse not better.