28 December 2006


Feeling charitable and safe in the knowledge that my viewpoint will have next to nil resonance in the Labour party I'm going to chuck a few home truths their way. The theme I want to discuss is renewal. I've been bamboozled by this buzzword ever since it became a mantra amongst Labour politicians and supporters. To me renewal means deep and meaningful change (usually) in response to a new environment. Therefore the talk of renewal within Labour has appeared absurd to me for several reasons.

The First Step Is Recognising There Is A Problem

Firstly and probably most importantly, I don't think that there is any real recognition of a need for change within the party. Sure, disillusioned activists have been peeling away for a whole host of reasons, but I haven't seen anything approaching a movement or alternative vision from the remaining party faithful (and I don't include John McDonnell). There are a few isolated voices at LabourHome making surprisingly sensible noises about specific areas of failure (e.g. immigration, policing) but there doesn't seem to be adequate introspection, honesty or even common sense for these calls to be taken seriously and crystallise into something meaningful. And when you think about how the likes of me will crow when Labour take on yet more Tory policies I can understand that it is psychologically painful.

I doubt that anything short of a crisis will shake the acceptance of the status quo - and when you think about how bad the May 2006 elections were for Labour it's hard to imagine what this crisis could look like.

Brown's Limitations

Secondly, the word renewal has been synonymous with an emerging Brown leadership. This association is surely a triumph of hope over experience. Not only is it hard to imagine how a Brown premiership can be sold to the public as a break with the past, but just as crucially, it's hard to imagine that Brown is fit for the purpose of renewal. For a start, the tinkering and deceptiveness of the Blair reign suited Brown to a tee - why are Labour investing hope in this Caledonian changing his tartan? Even if he did make a real effort to change, I'm afraid that he won't pull it off.

The ideal script for this Tory is as follows. Brown will be crowned without any debate or challenging of his ideas. Anything more than cosmetic change will be neither desired nor sought by Brown and no new philosophy will define his term. Sure, he'll have saved up a few headline-grabbers for the tabloid readers, but I fear that they will rightly be seen as gimmicks - he has little public goodwill to rely on.

The renewal concept looks like being one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time back when Labour supporters of all hues could project their dreams onto a Brown premiership. I think this dashed promise will backfire on Brown both within his party and at large. Anyway, comments from across the political spectrum welcome as always. What do you reckon?


Anonymous said...

The book I'm reading at the moment, Simon Jenkins' "Thatcher and Sons" tells of three revolutions: 1 has already happening, another is still happening, and one is yet to come.

The first revolution is on economic and, theoretically, personal freedom. The second revolution contradicts the first, in that it is about massive centralisation. Centralisation has been taking place in the Thatcher Years, the Major years, and most notably in the Blair years. Brown has been exercising the second revolution to unbelievable degrees at the Treasury, acting like a complete control freakery. Imagine how far he will take centralisation as Prime Minister.

Ken Clarke said, "Under Tony Blair we've had a president; with Gordon Brown we're going to have an emperor".

The third revolution that Jenkins calls for is a direct reversal of the second revolution, decentralisation, localisation and deregulation. Hopefully, Cameron, who has frequently talked about these issues, will carry the third revolution out.

Praguetory said...

Your thinking is ahead of the curve. Personally, I think that the localism message is already a very powerful one (and well understood and believed at senior levels in the Party), but is not appealing to the whole of the electorate and is not always easy to articulate.

Anonymous said...

In both our parties recent histories, "renewal" has meant a radical change in policy direction. We may be able to move a little to the right in places, a little to the left in others but I don't think Labour will be able to radically alter the direction of it's policy agenda.

Whatever happens will in my opinion need to begin with the leadership contest. Brown will have to be challenged to some degree even if there is no major contender. Personally, I think it would be good if John McDonnell got his nominations, since it would provide a platform for Gordon to make his ideas known and make clear what he stands for and where he want's to take the country.