Wednesday, 3 June 2009

How could GB prove the Guardian wrong?

The Guardian runs a lengthy editorial - Gordon Brown: Labour's Dilemma - this morning calling for the Cabinet to act to depose the Prime Minister. This follows the paper's endorsement of the Liberal Democrats for the European elections. (Jonathan Freedland this morning proposes a principled protest vote for the Greens before returning to the task of saving Labour),

"I can tell you one thing that is not going to influence the decision of Cabinet Ministers and that is a Guardian editorial. You can be absolutely certain of that", said John Denham in an effective and combative performance, having drawn the short straw of making the case for the government last night on Newsnight.

The editorial has rather a measured tone, praising Brown's response to the economic crisis and his ability to "shine" at the G20. (Though how long ago early April now seems). The central thread is less Labour's dire position in the polls but that Brown is not capable of the radicalism which the political moment demands.

The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support ... Great causes win the day when people fight for them. A year of lingering emptiness beckons instead.

And on a new constitutional settlement

Labour needs to enter the next election having reformed parliament. But Mr Brown will never do it. The prime minister was absent from the start of the debate and cautious now he has joined it. His instinct is usually to hesitate, and to establish reviews and commissions. Meanwhile, the chance of a generation is being missed. Only a Labour government, working with the Liberal Democrats, will bring about serious reform. The likelihood, for all David Cameron's promises, is that the Conservatives will not be radical enough, especially on fair votes. But Mr Brown has shown himself incapable of collaborating in this way. His disastrous announcement of expenses reform on YouTube showed that he cannot build the coalitions of interest (inside his party, never mind beyond) that are necessary for constitutional change. If reform is not to stall, someone else will have to lead it.

The argument is not so much that Brown can not change his cautious spots as that he lacks the political support to carry it off were he to try. How might the PM try to prove this wrong?

1. Say 'we get it' with the reshuffle: That reshuffles can't make much difference is the conventional wisdom. The return of Peter Mandelson, in similarly treacherous circumstances last Autumn when many thought the attempt to use the PM's powers could precipitate a coup, was an exception. It is difficult to see what similarly Mandelsonian rabbits could emulate this - Vince Cable is unlikely to be available. A widespread reconstruction of the senior posts now likely. So Brown could make a virtue of a Presbytarian reshuffle, clearing the decks of those with the biggest questions to face over expenses.

2. Cooperate to entrench a new constitutional settlement: On political reform, consultation is not now enough. There is a consensus The government should support the substance of the reform package proposed by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, including scheduling a referendum on electoral reform, and ensure the argument is about whether a nip-and-tuck at the margins or a new constitutional settlement is required.

3. Make jobs the issue. On the economy, the government's position is much more credible than the opposition's plans to cut spending now - at the lowest point in the cycle - to pay off debt more quickly. But the arguments for a fiscal stimulus, quantitative easing and multilateral reform at the G20, while important and necessary, have not been publicly salient. The great issue should be jobs - and youth unemployment in particular. The government should build on its graduate job guarantee scheme - and look at introducing this earlier than 12 months - and take up Professor David Blanchflower's proposals to defuse a youth unemployment crisis which risks creating a lost generation. Martin Bright's new deal of the mind project is among a number of creative initiatives which could form part of this plan.

4. When circumstances change, change your mind: The government needs to have a 'what not to spend' agenda too if it is to protect priority areas. Much of this is politically difficult. But they might as well take those opportunities where the unpopular is also unaffordable: rather than a slow lingering death for ID cards, announce that they are no longer to be pursued in changed circumstances.

On the more difficult issue of Trident, create a genuinely cross-partisan review process and make clear that the next Parliament will have the chance to vote after the design stage, before the major commissioning takes place.

There can be no guarantees that a bolder agenda would be enough to save Gordon Brown or Labour.

But a change of leader in the next fortnight remains the more unlikely outcome.

And this is, in any event and under any leader, what a Labour government should be doing with up to a year of power.


Calix said...

I agree with all your points. I'm afraid though the speed of events is making every statement redundant in ther space of minutes.

I particularly like your point about 'what not to spend', and re-thinking real priorities in a postive way.

It may seem near-impossible to see now, but there is a unique opportunity for progressives to re-shape politics and economics. Labour should show they are the party to meet the challenge, and somehow their language and thinking must change so that it is positive rather than defensive and reactive. Far, far easier said than done in the current climate.

John said...

Ignore the Guardian fat cats. They've got too much spare time and end up writing destructive material on the Labour party.

And the arch-blairite hazel blears is resigning to try and damage labour in the polls in the hope gordon brown will then be replaced as leader with someone to carry the arch-blairite torch. Someone to privatize the nhs because in Hazel's world, vouchers empower people and give them their dreams. Stupid Bitch. I hope she falls down a drainpipe and dies there.