Magazine article The Spectator

As Labour Slumps in the Polls, a New and Nervous Faction Is Arising: Blairites-for-Brown

Magazine article The Spectator

As Labour Slumps in the Polls, a New and Nervous Faction Is Arising: Blairites-for-Brown

Article excerpt

Each autumn the Labour party performs a ritualistic drama.

First, trade unionists and leftwingers talk darkly about insurrection at the annual party conference. Blair must go, they say. At conference fringe meetings, such whispers become a full-blown war cry. Next Gordon Brown gives a rousing speech, laying out his rival vision of the future. There is talk of mutiny even as the Prime Minister comes on stage.

But as he starts his oration, his audience is quickly spellbound. Rebels fall silent. Then applaud. Then coo. Then everyone boards the train back to London and the new parliamentary term begins.

This year the show has finally moved on. It will be set in Manchester rather than a decaying seaside resort, and the Blairite-Brownite division which provided such entertainment in conferences past is rapidly disintegrating.

Among Mr Blair's allies and enemies there is a clear consensus that this will be his last conference as leader, no matter how Churchillian his speech. The party is simply in too much danger.

Labour is bankrupt, hated and cowering at a 19-year low in the opinion polls. The Conservatives, according to an ICM poll last week, have 40 per cent of the vote, which they need to win a general election. The terror arrests and the sense of national emergency have not rallied voters to the government but made them look afresh at Sir Menzies Campbell and the Liberal Democrats. For Labour, there is an urgent need for a Plan B, implemented by Leader B.

Mr Blair will return from the Caribbean to find his top lieutenants alternating between panic and resigned despair. Even John Reid admits the prime ministerial game is up. A few months ago the Home Secretary was informing doubters that Mr Blair had pledged to serve a full third term. Now he tells colleagues that 'Tony will soon be gone' and talks about what should happen next. His plans include promoting the next generation of leaders. But here, the Chancellor has beaten him to it.

While Mr Brown has kept utterly silent throughout the summer, his aides have been hard at work speaking to young Blairite MPs about the case for defection. The Chancellor, it is said, believes renewal of the party does not just mean a new leader but a new team with new faces. It is time to pension off those who 'lost the 1992 election' (to borrow one phrase in circulation) and finally promote those Blairites whose loyalty has been repaid only by junior ministerial chores.

This strikes a chord. The bright young Labour MPs who came into parliament under Mr Blair's leadership have patiently waited for their turn. Yet the Prime Minister has spent nine years recycling the same faces, while the Conservatives are now the ones promoting youth. Those who once saw Mr Blair as a patron now regard him as a bed-blocker, forestalling the rejuvenation which Mr Brown is suddenly promising. The Chancellor is letting it be known that he intends to match the stardust of David Cameron with a young team of Gordie's Angels.

But Mr Brown's recruits are not being asked to ditch their Blairite credentials.

Instead they will be billed as 'Blairites-forBrown', who will declare that their personal politics fits comfortably within the Chancellor's big tent. Thus Mr Brown will be shown to have risen above petty intra-party factionalism to become the true unity candidate. Above all, those who attack him will be portrayed not as anti-Brown but anti-Labour. …

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