Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The splintering of the Brownites ... and the limits of king-making

There will not be a next generation blood feud of Blairites and Brownites on the post-1951 Bevanites versus Gaitskellites model. That is partly because the differences between Blairite New Labour and Brownite New Labour were considerably narrower than the protagonists appear to think. But it is also because the next generation are much less interested than would suit the media.

The Brownite camp was never enormously large. One of the striking features of the leadership election is just how scattered it has become.

The group has provided two competing leadership candidates - in Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, both of whom have run on their own arguments and ideas, and not on continuity Brownism. Another of Brown's close colleagues, Douglas Alexander, can be found running David Miliband's campaign. (Tony Blair's memoir expressed his wish to detach Alexander from the Brown camp - but this rather more reflects that David Miliband is caricatured as a simple 'continuity Blairite').

We may now see a further splintering of ex-Brownite opinion over the question of second preferences.

The Independent reports that Geoffrey Robinson, Coventry MP and former New Statesman owner, will be giving his second preference to David Miliband.

Tom Watson, another Ed Balls nominee, is giving his second preference to Ed Miliband, making Tony Blair's regrets about Freedom of Information the occasion on which to make his second vote known:

I want a society where Freedom of Information Act is just the start. Thought long and hard. Am backing @Ed_miliband with 2nd preference.

All of this offers good grounds for increased scepticism about claims that Ed Balls is going to play a "king-maker" role in the leadership election.

For one thing, this demonstrates how even MPs who have been particularly close to a candidate will make up their own minds - and are not votes who can be delivered en bloc. Those who want to work out how MP second preferences go are going to need to look, individually, at the nominees and supporters of individual candidates. (For example, the assumption that Andy Burnham's MP supporters will go to David Miliband may hold, but needs to factor in how a large number are based more on regional affinity than a left-right preference).

For another, Ed Balls himself gives every impression that he intends to make his own second preference clear as late as is feasible, which is sensible since doing so could well hamper his efforts to maintain his own campaign's momentum before the votes are cast.

If he does not go public by the weekend, it is quite likely that 50-75% of those who vote may already have done so.

The powers of a king-maker are easily exaggerated. Perhaps Ed Balls is not going to put them to the test.

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