Health Secretary Andy Burnham wore a black tie to the funeral of several careers on Sunday night, calling the election of two BNP MEPs “a sad day for British politics”. The Twitterati and Facebookers were the first to console themselves with the notion that the BNP actually had fewer votes than in 2004, and that the result was mainly due to Labour’s collapse. Personally, my response was that “I hereby take responsibility for the election of 2 BNP MEPs and apologise without reserve on behalf of the Labour Party.”
Don’t blame the electoral system, don’t blame the recession, don’t blame it on being in power for so long, don’t blame the turnout and definitely don’t blame “local reasons”. The responsibility for the result rests squarely with us.
By ‘us’ though, I really mean ‘the Labour leadership’. I know there are so many Labour activists, myself included, who have been swimming against the current as everything we say falls on deaf ears. Conversations on the doorstep were inevitably about expenses and leadership, never about Europe.
Therein lies the problem. The negative attention directed at Labour and specifically Brown will not go away until he does. If he doesn’t go now, another bad event will spark up more calls for him to go. Every issue and event will be seen through the prism of Brown’s weak position, opening up barely sealed wounds. The only way to stop the debate about the leadership is to push the red button.
If he does not do “the honourable thing” then he will have to be kicked out violently, lest the public do the same to the entire party. A war on all fronts, from the backbenchers to the Blairites to the Cabinet is the only way forward. The arguments against removing Brown no longer have weight; the equation has changed and unless we show the public a serious and powerful gesture, Labour will go down with him.
As Frank Field rightly points out: “Labour supporters claiming that the European results were not a catastrophe for the party can only do so by inventing a new meaning for the word catastrophe.” There are some who say that in every crisis there is an opportunity. With Brown, in every crisis there is an even bigger crisis, and in every opportunity there is a crisis with the opportunity for another crisis.
When it comes to problems for Labour, obviously Gordon Brown is only the tip of the iceberg. However, by getting rid of the tip, the public will no longer see the rest of the iceberg, and at least the net quantity of iceberg will have gone down a little bit.
Short of stepping down, it seems to be that the Prime Minister knows that the game is up, and has shifted into “Legacy Mode”. By painting himself as “the best man for the job” to deal with the economy, he has also remembered how he wanted to tinker with the Constitution. I had heard that he had also hoped to push through the Lisbon Treaty as well. It looked for a while that he was trying to gives his old friends that last leg-up to give his heirs more credibility. Trying to put Balls as Chancellor was a clear example.
Tragically, his legacy will be little more than the man who did worse than Michael Foot. Of course he has made an enormous contribution to the Labour Party, but he is also the man who has now done an equal amount of damage to it. If he really is “the best we have”, the Cabinet Ministers should hang their heads in shame. It is hard to imagine anyone being worse than him without deliberately trying to sabotage the party. To allow Brown to stay now is to destroy 100 years of political history for the sake of one man’s ego.
The other favourite argument of the “loyalists” (to Brown, not the Party) is that there is no consensus behind who should replace him. I think we will have cross that bridge when we come to it, unless Brown has already burned it down. We are in an untenable position now and the only way to improve our fortunes, not just in the next General Election but in the future of British politics, is to change this position. A big leap into popularity may be impossible from where we currently stand, but changing something, anything, will be a step in the right direction.
This is not the end of our trouble, but if we want to live to fight another day, it is the only way.