Thursday, February 22, 2007

Greasy polls

Tony seems happy to make his farewell tour last longer than Frank Sinatra's and submitted himself to a hostile interrogation by John Humphrys on the Today Programme this morning. Not surprisingly, the chief element of his legacy, Iraq, loomed large in the discussions - even larger than Chris Eubanks' truck in Whitehall later on.

Gordon, meanwhile, awaits his moment. The ICM poll this week didn't make good breakfast reading on his birthday, as it indicated that Gordon would have a negative effect on Labour's electoral chances. I'm not convinced by that. Firstly, we've not seen what Gordon will do when he gets the top job. I'm fully expecting a flurry of proposals and policies in his first 100 days in office and that should give him control of the media agenda, given that the Tories can only oppose while Gordon proposes. While it is true that Gordon has been as much a part of the Labour machine as Tony - possibly even a greater influence in a practical way - I think that much of this government's current woes are associated in the public mind with Blair and his departure will lift some of that gloom. Whatever else Brown is, he isn't Tony and that's one of his strongest cards. Cameron, on the other hand, is trying his best to try to follow the Blair plan of campaign - I'm half expecting him to try to write Clause IV into the Tory rulebook.

Secondly, I don't think that the Tories believe it either. They've been hammering away at Brown for ages and that suggests to me that they believe him to be a genuine threat to their electoral chances. (Remember, incidentally, that Kinnock led Thatcher by this sort of margin for months before the '87 election). There will be a Brown-inspired bounce in the polls after his election and that will give him an edge over Cameron. Brown will have a chance to get things done and those first months will decide the result of the next election. Things are still finely balanced, but I am equally convinced that for the first time in years, the next general election will be a real fight to decide who will govern the country. Them or us.

The other question rattling around is about whether there will be a challenger to Brown at all. I have never thought that John McDonnell had a chance of collecting the 44 votes required to put up a challenge. While there will be a number of MPs prepared to back any candidate just to ensure that there is an election, not a coronation, I don't think that John is strong enough to pull the votes together. Michael Meacher is a different proposition and has a much better chance of collecting support, although his support for the Iraq war will dent his left-wing credentials (and his conspiracy theories over 9/11 are not good indicators, either). Michael is seen right in a screen test for the role of James Bond. However, I don't expect either of them to be in a position to seriously take on Gordon. Indeed, unless one of them pulls out, it is quite likely that neither will secure the 44 nominations required to get onto the starting grid. Tom Watson seems to think that's the case.

The threat might come from the Blairite wing, who seem to be set on something of a scorched earth policy. Their problem is that they don't seem to have a candidate with enough muscle. 'Dr' John seems to be unfit for purpose and otherwise engaged as a result of the ongoing Home Office kerfuffle and his has been the only name talked up sufficiently. David Milliband has been put forward, but he has stated that he isn't interested - although I'm sure that if there were a demand from members that he should stand, then he would feel duty-bound to do so. Ah, the sacrifices politicians make for their parties, eh? Even then, I'm not certain that he can stop the Brown steamroller.

In all honesty, despite the unwelcome present this week, I doubt very much that we'll be welcoming anyone other than Gordon Brown as our new PM in time for the autumn conference.

The deputy leadership is much more interesting. I'm leaning towards Jon Cruddas, because he has made rebuilding the party a key element of his campaign and that's something particularly dear to my heart. None of the others have come remotely close to inspiring me with their tone - although I do have hopes of Hilary Benn. Alan Johnson is a strong candidate and should attract Blairite support - perhaps he'll be the consolation prize for handing the top job to Brown.

As always in Labour, interesting times ahead.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Go for Jon Cruddas. He's a breath of fresh air!