Magazine article The Spectator

The Labour Party Has Ended Up as the Unloved Child of the Blair - Brown Divorce

Magazine article The Spectator

The Labour Party Has Ended Up as the Unloved Child of the Blair - Brown Divorce

Article excerpt

Deep party feuds never really die: they just lie buried under the flimsy covering of the good times. For Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, such times have been brief indeed. My yoga teacher tells her wobbly pupils that the point of balance in a perfect headstand is the point just before we fall over. Mr Brown has discovered this goes for politics too.

Not least among his many horrors in a parliamentary session overwhelmed by a building society crisis, carelessly lost confidential files, inaccurate data on foreign workers and the funding scandal from hell, is the return of negative comparisons with his predecessor.

As soon as I heard people close to the PM saying at Labour conference, 'Who really misses Blair now?', I knew fate was being sorely tempted. Now the murmurs about 'How Tony would have handled this' buzz unfavourably around Mr Brown in his time of troubles. That is a golden glow too far. Had dear Tony lived politically to see this scandal, there is no question what he would have had to do: namely resign. He could not have survived another dodgy funding saga, whatever the excuses.

Mr Brown knows this. That is why he calculated that his best chances of dealing with this latest and worst mess to land on the No. 10 doormat is to locate it way back (in government terms) in 2003 and have Jack Straw opine that it was 'a matter of history' that it started life in the nice and sleazy era of You Know Who.

Factually, Messrs Brown and Straw are right.

Whether it was a clever or considered thing to say so, I doubt. The washing of hands has unleashed a behind-the-scenes bout of Blairite fury which is still capable of doing damage to Mr Brown. This row provides a connecter between the two regimes -- and not as they would wish.

For a start, if there really had been the 'stable and orderly transition', rather than a sullen protracted farewell held together with sticky tape and forced grins all round, the matter of how to avoid a rerun of any embarrassments after the loans-for-honours scandal would have been settled. It was not.

It also reminds us of the things Labour has so far been too polite to discuss: like Mr Brown's role in party matters for the last decade. One former chairman told me that he was pretty sure the then Chancellor knew nothing at all of any trickery about donations and the bewildering range of identities adopted by Mr Abrahams. 'Not for any edifying reason, ' he says. 'Gordon never took any interest in what happened in the party. He didn't even attend gala dinners when we asked him. He was above it all. If the machine wasn't directly serving him or his interests, he wasn't remotely interested in it.' On one point at least, the Brownites are right to point the finger at their predecessors. The Blair years saw an extraordinary instability in the way the Labour party was run. It veered, as one former high-level insider put it, 'between being a delivery unit for whatever No. 10 wanted, to brief periods of more independence and then back again -- all against a background of decline that comes with long periods in office'.

Inconsistency in such matters was very typical of Mr Blair. So Charles Clarke's appointment after the 2001 election as chairman was intended to give the party the sense that it was important enough to merit a major figure at the helm. That did not last long. The low calibre of Mr Clarke's successor as chairman, Mr Ian McCartney, a Prescott ally from the Scottish party machine, was widely remarked upon even then. After Mr McCartney, it returned to appointing apparatchiks. …

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