Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Brown Draws the Left into Missile Battle

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Brown Draws the Left into Missile Battle

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford

Clare Short, once tipped as Gordon Brown's deputy, says she will not now back him. Moderate-left MPs like Gordon Prentice who might have formed the solid core of his support castigate him for pre-empting a vital decision about the nation's future.

Thus, by announcing he will support the replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system, Gordon Brown ensured that there will be a contest for the Labour leadership when Tony Blair finally stands down.

But is the Chancellor sorry? Does he believe he has committed some huge political faux pas? Not a bit of it.

The Chancellor's Mansion House speech on Wednesday may have made a leadership challenge to him from the Labour left inevitable ( but that is exactly the impact he intended it to have.

Ever since Labour's leaders started talking about an "orderly transition," there have been two underlying assumptions about the succession.

The first was that Mr Brown would be the only candidate. The second was that he himself would not welcome the emergence of a rival challenger.

The first of these assumptions was probably always wrong. Politics abhors a vacuum, and it is always likely that when a Prime Minister's job comes up for grabs, more than one person will fancy a pop at it.

But what has changed in recent weeks is that it has become clear to Mr Brown himself that a leadership challenge is not only to be expected, but that it should be welcomed.

Partly this is a response to the leadership contests that have taken place in the other two parties over the past 12 months. David Cameron's emphatic victory in the Tory leadership contest in particular enabled him to claim a clear mandate for his reformist brand of conservatism and strengthened his position both inside and outside the party.

Even Sir Menzies Campbell ( whom some people wanted to assume the Lib Dem leadership without a contest ( ultimately benefited from Chris Huhne's unexpected and spirited challenge.

Mr Brown knows that elections clear the air, and give the winner a legitimacy and authority that they would otherwise lack.

But for the Chancellor, it's not just about having any election, but a particular sort of election ( one in which he can position himself as the impeccably New Labour "heir to Blair"

In one sense, given the poisonous hatred in some sections of the Labour Party towards the Prime Minister and all his works, it is surprising that he should want to do this.

But Mr Brown knows, firstly, that the Tories' main line of attack against him will be that he is the "roadblock to reform," and secondly, that the Blairites are looking for any excuse to run one of their own against him.

Hence his first moves in the run-up to the leadership election will be to protect his more vulnerable right flank against the charge that he is really more Old Labour than New. …

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