The question isn’t: ‘Should Labour replace Gordon Brown?’ It’s ‘Why would anyone want to succeed him?’

by Stephen Tall on July 25, 2008

Last night’s stunning SNP victory in Glasgow East caps one of the worst six months for the Labour party in at least 25 years. Policy gaffes and u-turns; a deeply unpopular leader; and catastrophic election defeats across the country – it doesn’t get much worse than this.

The time has now passed when the question could genuinely be asked whether it is in Labour’s interest to replace Gordon Brown as leader. The answer is just too obvious: of course they should, and (if it can be achieved in a dignified way) the sooner the better. It isn’t just a matter of the polls, though they are dire. More importantly, Mr Brown has proven himself to be a failure as a leader, unable to communicate his vision, or how that vision could translate into policy, to either his party or the public. And that’s a pretty basic requirement for a political leader.

It isn’t that anyone in the current cabinet stands out as a fantastic leader; it’s that few of them would be any worse. (And when you look at the current cabinet that’s as damning a verdict as you can get). Any Labour MP today sitting on a majority of between 5,000 and 10,000 must surely reflect that it’s more likely they’ll survive the next general election with a more dynamic leader.

The real question now is: what should Labour look for in their next leader? Should it be someone who’s a ‘competent caretaker’ (Jack Straw), ‘steady as she goes’ (Alan Johnson, John Denham, Hilary Benn), an ‘articulate woman’ (Harriet Harman, Tessa Jowell), or a ‘bright young thing’ (David Miliband, James Purnell).

Either of the first two categories – ‘competent caretaker’ or ‘steady as she goes’ – would, in my view, be a mistake for Labour. Though it might halt the haemorrhaging in Labour’s support, it would be little more than damage control, a safety first tactic to stave off a potential landslide defeat. It would be a sign that Labour had given up on winning a fourth term, and was retiring to lick its wounds.

The riskier options – an ‘articulate woman’ or ‘bright young thing’ – are less likely, I think, but would at least suggest something new and fresh, a chance for Labour to regroup with vigour with the aim of seeing off David Cameron and his band of Tories. In the case of either Messrs Miliband or Purnell, however, the question that will haunt them is: ‘Will I be Labour’s William Hague?’

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They’re past the point where changing leader will make any difference. Brown isn’t actually the problem – he’s simply the biggest symptom of a government that has run out of ideas, outstayed its welcome and failed to protect the public’s finances.

People are fed up of a government that believes only it has the solutions to problems, constantly tinkers and interferes, but yet can’t act with integrity when claiming expenses for its own MPs.

They are going to be swept away, regardless who is steering the ship, and will deserve every last defeat when it comes. It’s just a shame they were allowed to continue in office so long.

Bush/Blair/Brown/Thatcher – take yer pick.

by Dan on July 25, 2008 at 12:50 pm. Reply #

I’ve known more than enough people who liked Blair, but don’t like Brown. I tried pointing out to them that all Brown’s policies (Iraq, 42 days, ID cards, the tax credits fiasco) were started by Blair. They often “agree with” (in a half-baked unthinking way) these policies, and their sole disagreement with Brown is because of his image. Perhaps Camoron has got nicer hair.

*mutters evilly about prospectors*

by asquith on July 25, 2008 at 1:15 pm. Reply #

Dan – Its worse than that:
This lot say one thing but do another.
– Last weeks ‘Great Green Renewable Future’ turns out to be just bullshit.
The reality is that they are sitting on the fence or actively obstructing renewables.
Our 500MW local windfarm proposal has been at the DTI for 5 years. They have sent the Severn barrage back to be studied again. Meanwhile EDF is being actively lined up to build our nuclear capacity and the costs being massaged.

Whatever your stance on the issue- this is sheer govt. mendacity. (Or is it Whitehall fighting itself?)

by simonsez on July 25, 2008 at 1:45 pm. Reply #

Whichever way they turn Labour under Brown has recieved a kicking.

So perhaps the mistake was made at the beginning to state that Brown would make a transformation from Blair (whether or not you personally liked him). I’d say this is not least partly because Browns fortunes have been inextricably linked to Blairs over the past 20 years, so to denounce the platform which brought him to office is a bit like cutting his own legs off.

The answer then is to stop twisting and turning and stick with Brown – if nobody else wants to up the ante and challenge him then the PM must accept that the party will stand or fall according to what he does.

Brown must ask himself whether he’ll be the first historian to condemn himself?

by Oranjepan on July 25, 2008 at 1:48 pm. Reply #

Nice article Stephen. But you have omitted someone off your list. She is arguably a competent caretaker, steady as she goes, and an articulate woman, (though possibly not such a bright young thing.) I refer of course to . . .

by Laurence Boyce on July 25, 2008 at 1:49 pm. Reply #

Tony Blair made it clear he would step down at some point during this Parliament. Therefore the electorate knew, in casting their vote in May 2005, that there would be a new leader of the Labour party who would become Prime Minister before the next election.

There are precedents, as Douglas Home and John Major became mid-term, ‘unelected’ Prime Ministers.

However it would be without precedent for there to be two changes of prime minister in a single Parliament.

I strongly suspect that while the media is whipping up the “Brown must Go” hysteria, if he actually did step down, the calls from the media, and from Cameron and Nick Clegg for a General Election would be overwhelming.

The Labour party simply could not impose a second change of prime minister within 18-24 months.

Any new PM would be forced to call a General Election and Labour would be heavily punished in the polls.

Therefore Gordon Brown really has little choice but to continue, and like John Major in the run-up to 1997 just hope something halts the Opposition’s momentum. I suspect that Brown’s would-be successors realise that with absolutely no mandate to succeed him in No 10, there is no point pushing for him to go.

by Paul Harrod on July 25, 2008 at 2:40 pm. Reply #

Some great points now and sorry if I missed this question but do WE want him to stay? Does him holding on increase our chances of better results and give us more time or does in play mostly into conservative hands?

by Nick on July 25, 2008 at 3:22 pm. Reply #

The sooner he goes, the better. There’s no reason to assume that Labour won’t continue with their deranged crusade to appear tough on things, to the enormous detriment of the UK.

by Anax on July 25, 2008 at 7:59 pm. Reply #

No matter who leads Labour they will lose the next election. I’m not sure the public car who leads labour they just want them removed from power. By elections have shown the public prefers any other party with a chance of removing a labour candidate. Analysts are expecting recession to last 3 years or more. There is no window of opportunity for Labour. Even if there was an upturn I’m not convinced that the labour vote will benefit in terms of votes.
The end of the good times showed their pretence of economic competence was sham. The good times were their only plus factor otherwise their uncompromising sleaze ,corruption, incompetence in all areas, and removal of liberty would have seem them removed after one election. A percentage of voters (some Labour) now hate labour and all it stands for. Hardly prominsing for their future chances.

by Haflinger on July 25, 2008 at 8:51 pm. Reply #

Brown needs to (a) kick out any public or plotting protaganist of more Blairism and also Brownie fumblers and (b) recruit an A Campbell and team to regain control over media and impression management.

Clearly this ought to be about policy not personality. And about doing the right thing for the country not being cheesy.

Speaking of which – where is Cloggie? And why is yet another Lib Dem defeat by the Tories not your primary concern?

by Chris Paul on July 26, 2008 at 4:22 pm. Reply #

Terrific post, really terrific post and exactly what I was thinking too. Who on earth would want what has to be a poison chalice.

by Spanny Thomas on August 2, 2008 at 7:01 pm. Reply #

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