Magazine article The Spectator

Alastair Campbell Told the Crowd: 'Unite Behind Gordon to Win'. but Can They?

Magazine article The Spectator

Alastair Campbell Told the Crowd: 'Unite Behind Gordon to Win'. but Can They?

Article excerpt

When John Reid was asked if he'd stand for Labour party leader, he would always give the same sort of reply. 'I have a life outside politics, ' he told me at the last Labour conference. 'I play the guitar, I play piano.

I have a house in France. I could walk away from all this tomorrow, and my life would not collapse. Now you may believe me, or you may not believe me: I don't give a . . .'.

At the time, I didn't believe him. Not for a second. Mr Reid seemed to be the classic political animal. Ministerial red boxes from his many government posts are lined up in his parliamentary office like hunting trophies.

He would call friends on a Saturday night and chat away; they'd find out later he was sitting in the Home Office with a team working next door. He seemed to be less a man in chains than a pig in muck. Yet last weekend, he did indeed decide to walk away from it all.

It was potent evidence of a reality which is only now dawning in Westminster: the Blair years are finally over. The curtain is falling, and Mr Reid is one of many familiar faces who will leave the stage. Perhaps he decided that he could not work with the Chancellor.

Perhaps Mr Brown decided that he did not want a rival power base in his new Cabinet.

Either way, there will be more departures to come, a brutal Darwinian clear-out. The cast which has dominated British politics for the last decade is finally dispersing.

The next few weeks will decide the shape of British politics for the next few years. Mr Brown was conspicuously absent from the scene -- extraordinarily so -- in the days after Labour's terrible electoral performance in Scotland, Wales and the English local authorities. Now, however, he must begin what he will present as a campaign for the leadership. In truth, it will be no such thing. The Chancellor is hoping that Michael Meacher and John McDonnell, his two putative challengers from Labour's left, will be unable to agree which of them is to stand in the next few days. If neither secures the requisite 45 signatures, the Chancellor will achieve his dubious ambition to be crowned rather than elected in a serious contest -- thus becoming the first prime minister since Eden to enter No. 10 without the semblance of a competition.

So we are now in a curious seven-week interregnum while Mr Blair works out his notice, stripped of any meaningful power.

There is talk of Mr Brown summoning hundreds of Labour MPs on to College Green and standing with them as they cheer uproariously for the cameras. But until the end of next month, he will spend most of his time in the Treasury watching as Labour contents itself with an over-contested race for its deputy leadership.

It is a sad reflection of the state of talent in the Labour party that, while one person is likely to stand to be the new Tony Blair, half a dozen want to be the new John Prescott. The race for Labour's deputy leadership will probably begin in earnest on Monday -- and the outcome will matter to Mr Brown not one jot. His de facto deputy will be the City minister, Ed Balls, his longserving aide, intellectual alter ego and the author of many of his best ideas.

That said, the deputy leadership race will serve as a useful barometer of Labour's survival instinct. There is a row of Cabinet candidates: Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears, Alan Johnson and Peter Hain. An ex-Cabinet minister: Harriet Harman. And one backbencher: Jon Cruddas, the Dagenham MP who has devoted his career to politics beyond the Westminster village. If the British National Party made no significant advances at the last week's election, Labour has his campaigning to thank.

A plausible argument is advanced by Mr Cruddas's supporters. Labour is becoming disconnected from its base and is in danger of becoming a 'virtual party' rather than a national movement. For example, last Thursday's elections left Labour with no representation in 88 English local authorities. …

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