Labour, a Party Tainted by the Smell of Death; Gordon Brown's Position Is Precarious, While Wendy Alexander Is History

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

Labour, a Party Tainted by the Smell of Death; Gordon Brown's Position Is Precarious, While Wendy Alexander Is History


Byline: JOHN MACLEOD

LESS than a decade ago, the Labour Party defied political gravity. TonyBlair reigned on the back of an enormous majority in the House of Commons,scarcely dented in 2001 and tacitly endorsed by a fawning media establishmentand entrenched through a complacent client-state - a cosseted, swelling publicsector - the length of Britain.

From the assumption of power in 1997 until the autumn of 2003, New Labour neveronce dropped a seat in a House of Commons byelection.

With the exception of a few panicky days in September 2000, when a fuel crisisbriefly shook the Blair sang-froid, Labour led continually, and by a largemargin, in every Westminster opinion poll through these six years.

In Scotland, an amiable mediocrity of a First Minister had likewise a lock onour new devolved parliament, loved-up with the Liberal Democrats in what oneprominent Nationalist described grimly as the 'Thousand Year Reich'.

Scottish Labour ran almost our entire local government. It controlled, as onebloc, our major cities and the entire Central Belt and, through dense networksof cronyism and a chilling ability to intimidate, commanded swathes of widercivil society besides.

Now in 2008, with a new Prime Minister and mounting fiscal woes, all is dustfor Labour in Scotland. The pathetic resignation statement of Holyrood partyleader Wendy Alexander - showing, at last, a humanity and poise that hadhitherto eluded her - is barely a footnote in an end game so entire it isalmost Biblical.

In just a few days last October - the disastrous general election that neverwas - Gordon Brown's credibility evaporated. It has never recovered and thepublic 'disconnect' with this gifted but utterly weird man is now almostcertainly irreparable.

In just a few weeks, the Labour Party has lost control of London, beenmassacred in English local government and lost a safe seat in its Oop Northheartland to the Tories by a country mile. To cap disaster with entirehumiliation, it has come a gruesome fifth in still another by-election, pippednot merely by the Greens but by the racist louts of the BNP.

In Scotland, to its manifest astonishment, Labour lost power last year to theSNP. The Nationalists, despite having no majority at Holyrood, but with acertain easy way with manifesto promises, continue to enjoy a stubbornpolitical honeymoon.

Meanwhile, Labour power in municipal

Scotland was overthrown by a new electoral system - and the old, distastefulTammany Hall of party-machine Lowland politics is already as Nineveh and Tyre.

Governments have languished before. Margaret Thatcher, now generally agreed tobe our greatest post-war Prime Minister, regularly plumbed abysmal troughs ofmid-term unpopularity.

But now, even more than with the last, racked years of John Major, there is asmell of death about Labour in Britain - a sense of a crisis now irretrievable,of a defeat, sure and certain, and possibly catastrophic. THINGS can only getworse. Under a premiership now living from Wednesday to Wednesday, any pretenceof Commons discipline has vanished. What a Labour backbench revolt now wants, aLabour backbench revolt now gets.

When a Labour Party in government is stony broke, its only conceivable succourlies in the trade unions. And the unions have already sensed their advantage.

On both grounds, the Government is already sliding remorselessly to theclass-warfare populism of the Left - and it has still nearly two years leftthereby to bankrupt the country, in a final Gotterdammerung worthy of the fallof Berlin.

How could it happen? How could a great political party of proud moral compass,swept anew to power in 1997 with unprecedented advantages, now find itself sobroken, so spent and so contemptible? There are three main reasons.

Firstly, there was a moral failure.

Under Tony Blair, Labour repudiwielded ated its own values - the central idealthat the strong must help the weak, and that government is a tool to correctuntrammelled, free-market enterprise in the direction of equality and socialjustice. …

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