Another Journey along the Third Way Threatens to End in a Terrible Crash
Richards, Steve, The Independent (London, England)
Here we go again: another insecure Labour prime minister throws away political capital in a failed attempt to please nearly everyone. When he moved into No 10, Gordon Brown looked to the right and to the left of him, listened to the authoritarians and those of a liberal tendency, and decided to revive almost immediately the thorny issue of securing suspects without charge.
He had planned his move during the long, anguished, nerve- wracking wait for Tony Blair to depart, assuming he had hit upon a third way, one that would get most people on board. Not for the first time, a journey along the apparently comforting terrain of a third way threatens to end in an almighty crash.
When Tony Blair was defeated over his equally calculated attempt to allow suspects to be held for 90 days without charge, Britain did not suddenly become a more dangerous place. At no stage since have police officers despaired over the lack of time in which to question suspects. Instead, something close to the opposite has happened.
Since that act of nervy political posturing dressed up as messianic boldness, a whole range of figures otherwise close to Mr Blair have expressed their opposition, from the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to that closest of close friends, Lord Falconer. In practical terms therefore, there was no compelling reason why the move had to be right at the top of Mr Brown's in- tray during his early Downing Street honeymoon. Still he went ahead. Now what we are witnessing are the final dregs of his political strategy that fell apart with the fiasco of the non-early election.
Last summer, when he was successfully portraying himself as the apolitical father of the nation, the debate over detaining suspects without charge must have seemed politically attractive. Probably, Mr Brown calculated that he could succeed where Mr Blair had failed, reinforcing another part of his pre-election strategy of appearing more Blairite than Mr Blair.
Right-wing newspapers would support him. The move was popular with voters. The Tories would look "soft" on terror and be in the "wrong position over this" (a favourite Brownite phrase in relation to the Conservatives and policy areas).
Mr Brown thought he had a way of pulling off the move, reassuring liberals that there would be more parliamentary scrutiny while wooing those who supported Mr Blair's stance in the first place. This was his third way. No doubt he assumed that, in the early days of his leadership, goodwill and a sense that he was less messianic in relation to these issues would be enough to help him prevail. The father of the nation would have made us safer while displaying a fresh concern for civil liberties.
The strategy reaches a denouement in a different context as Labour slumps in the polls. The cock-ups over the early election blew apart the successes of the summer, reminding voters that Mr Brown was the leader of a political party who desperately wanted to win an election. The father of the nation had become, what he was and all leaders are, a highly partisan figure. No longer was he able to speak with an apolitical authority. He had been caught out.
The loss in support that followed means Labour MPs are less willing to bow to their leader and pay homage to his strategic calculations. They are right to be wary. I meet very few Labour MPs who are convinced this part of …
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Publication information: Article title: Another Journey along the Third Way Threatens to End in a Terrible Crash. Contributors: Richards, Steve - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: April 1, 2008. Page number: 26. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.