Magazine article The Spectator

Tony, Gordon and Peter Saved Labour: Now They'll Destroy It

Magazine article The Spectator

Tony, Gordon and Peter Saved Labour: Now They'll Destroy It

Article excerpt

Matthew d'Ancona says that, by sticking with Brown, Labour has opted for a mad collective delusion. The party is still in thrall to the trio who invented New Labour and cannot think beyond the Blair-Brown era - an incapacity for which it will pay a terrible price

In Westminster this week, I have felt like the boy in the movie The Sixth Sense.

You remember the character and his famous line. 'I see dead people, ' he tells his therapist, Bruce Willis, 'walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.' How often does the boy see these scary, deluded beings? 'All the time. They're everywhere.'

And they are, you know. Everywhere. In Parliament Square, Portcullis House, the coffee shops around SW1: Labour MPs who think they are still alive, and that they will live to fight another day after the disasters of the past fortnight. Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister, he has formed a new Cabinet - just - and the Parliamentary Labour Party did not rise up on Monday night to defenestrate their leader. On they limp, these shambling, morally broken MPs, muttering to themselves that it could be worse, that catastrophe has been averted, that the moment of maximum danger is behind them. How deceived can a political tribe be? The expenses scandal shed unforgiving light upon a parliament of spivs. Now we have a parliament of zombies.

That PLP meeting was spun by Brown's allies as a triumph. The new Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw - a close ally of David Miliband - declared that the Prime Minister 'gave the speech of a lifetime'. And - as if that were not glorious enough - we learn that nobody clapped when Charles Clarke demanded that Gordon step down.

How impressive is that? A PLP meeting where only a third of the MPs called upon to speak actually ask their boss to resign. Now that's what I call authority. When Tony Lloyd, chairman of the parliamentary party, told the BBC that 'Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister, he will lead the Labour party into the next general election' and added, 'I can state that as a clear fact, ' I was reminded of the shambolic moment when Jim Mortimer, the Labour party secretary, said days before the 1983 election that 'the unanimous view of the campaign committee is that Michael Foot is the leader'. Except, of course, that Foot got 27.6 per cent of the vote - not 15.7 per cent, as Gordon did in the European election.

Sometimes the only strength a party leader has is his weakness. In 1995, John Major resigned and forced a leadership contest in which he defeated John Redwood. This was presented by Major's allies as a glorious victory, much as Brown's speech on Monday was spun as a political tour de force. In fact, 111 of the 329 Tory MPs who turned out did not vote for the incumbent Conservative prime minister - that is, more than a third of Major's parliamentary colleagues declined to back him in his hour of need. In truth, it was a cruel snapshot of power draining calamitously from Number 10. Yet Major had called his party's bluff, just as Brown, in his own way, did this week. Both men dared their respective tribes to come up with a better candidate. Both led their parties to the edge of the abyss and tormented them with the prospect of electoral obliteration. For all its pieties, Brown's message was the same as Major's 14 years ago. Have a go if you think you're hard enough - but nobody gets out of here alive.

In their capacity for collective delusion, politicians sometimes resemble a wacky sect of mediaeval millenarians or people who believe in homeopathy. The difference is that neither millenarians or people who buy 'complementary medicine' products at Boots are presently holding the entire country hostage. Having come perilously close to dumping Brown - even closer than they did last year - Labour MPs have now decided to pretend to us, to each other, and above all to themselves that this was a bad idea all along, that Gordon is going to change, that there is no alternative candidate for the leadership and that Brown's departure would precipitate an even deeper crisis. …

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