Labour’s cowardly coup: the sequel
The ‘plot’ to overthrow UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears even more gutless than the one he staged against Tony Blair.
As the credit crunch continues, the British government’s credit with the public has just about run out, its standing lower than a bank’s share price. Nobody in the Labour Party really believes that Prime Minister Gordon Brown can recover. Yet nobody, it seems, has the nerve to finish him off. It is a sign of how low political life has sunk under New Labour that Brown, the spineless backstabber behind the cowardly coup against Tony Blair, should now himself be the target of an even more pathetic plot by even less brave assassins.
Two years ago I wrote on spiked that ‘Those in the British Labour Party plotting to overthrow Tony Blair have achieved what many of us might have considered impossible. They have managed to make the prime minister look good, like a leader of high principle, compared to their low conniving.’ (See Egotism, cliques and cowardly backstabbers – it’s politics after Blair, by Mick Hume.)
Everybody, we were told, wanted Blair out. Yet nobody of prominence took a public stand against Blair – least of all Brown, who pretended it was all nothing to do with him, guv. Nobody put forward an alternative policy or political idea. Instead a clique of Lilliputian Labour MPs, terrified at the thought of losing their seats in Parliament, circulated a little letter – which nobody would own up to having written.
Lacking the nerve even to call on Blair to resign immediately – the only logical step if they thought him such a liability – they asked him if he would be so kind as to name a date when he would step down as prime minister and let somebody else – ie, the innocent Brown – take over. Meanwhile, they spread all the malicious gossip they could through the media. Thus began perhaps the most weasely, cowardly coup in British political history, at the end of which Brown became prime minister. You did not have to be a supporter of Blair – and we at spiked were very far from that – to see that Brown’s antics were a degenerate excuse for political leadership.
That spiked article from September 2006 also pointed out the deluded nature of the belief that this change of figurehead would somehow solve the government’s dire political problems, and concluded that under Brown’s leadership ‘to update New Labour’s anthem from Blair’s 1997 electoral triumph, Things Can Only Get Worse’. And so it came to pass.
Two years later, we are told that most erstwhile believers now recognise that Brown the saviour has somehow, to their great surprise, turned out to be a disaster. Few believe that he has any hope of winning an election, and most dream of a new leader coming over the hill to save them. Even Brown’s remaining supporters have hardly come up with a ringing endorsement. Chief whip Geoff Hoon could only say he was ‘absolutely confident Gordon Brown will be prime minister at Christmas’ – barely three months hence.
As with the opposition to Blair, the anti-Brown mood is not motivated by ideological differences – there are no political debates or differences of substance between the bank managers of New Labour, as the forthcoming party conference will no doubt confirm. It is simply a case of MPs and others clutching at straws in a desperate scramble for survival on the edge of the electoral abyss.
So over the past week, the temperature rose as rumours circulated that the Cabinet was close to open revolt, that Labour MPs were ready to sign up in droves to the rebellion, that the party executive would order a leadership contest to be held at the conference later this month.
What has actually happened? A paltry dozen rebel MPs, including bitter ex-ministers, have come out and said that they think there should be a leadership contest. One junior Scottish minister has resigned, one junior party whip has been sacked, along with the party vice-chairman and Brown’s ‘forestry envoy’. It is unlikely you would recognise any of their names. Meanwhile, Cabinet ministers have issued mealy-mouthed messages of support for the prime minister. The executive committee voted not to issue nomination papers for a leadership election, thus ruling out any possible contest. And, err, that’s it.
Not one leading Labour figure has put himself or herself forward as a candidate to replace the leader they don’t want. Brown himself, of course, kept his head well below the parapet and his backside well covered during all the manoeuvring to oust Blair. But we all knew who the chief plotter and leader-in-impatient-waiting was. This time, there is no serious candidate. Not even the foreign secretary, David Miliband, widely seen (not least by himself) as a future leader, has dared to suggest he might stand.
Former minister Fiona Mactaggart told the BBC that ‘I think we should give a chance to someone else to take over, I really do’. Yet nobody seems to want that chance, they really don’t. If the party executive were to issue the nomination papers these people are demanding, perhaps the rebels could just write ‘Someone Else’ in the box. The invisible Mr or Ms Else might well give Brown a run for his money, but nobody of more substance seems willing to risk it.
As Frank Field, another former minister and opponent of Brown, summed it up: ‘If we can’t get 100 MPs to call for the PM to go, maybe we deserve the leader we’ve got. Not many in the Cabinet have earned Victoria Crosses for bravery right now.’
It is as if almost nobody wants Brown to be leader any more, yet nobody except Brown wants to be Labour prime minister now. Labour politicians appear frozen by conflicting fears – frightened to death of an electoral wipe-out, yet too scared to try to do anything much about it. If there is a coup plot, it is so cowardly and underhand that few seem willing to admit even to themselves that they are part of it.
So Brown, who sneaked into power via a cowardly coup plot, remains there for now thanks to the cowardice of his enemies. He has no more vision or idea of what to do than he had two years ago. But neither have they. In that sense, indeed, they are right to hesitate about putting themselves forward. Swapping Brown for somebody like Miliband would solve nothing. There is no political alternative on offer. The best thing that could be done for the future of progressive politics would be not to stab Brown, but to bury the corpse of the Labour Party altogether.
One way or another, Brown will go in the end – at the hands of the electorate if his ‘colleagues’ cannot do it themselves. In the meantime, his government, and political life, stumbles on semi-blinded from one crisis to the next, waiting for Comrade Someone Else to screw up some courage and try to grab the poisoned chalice of being the next – and possibly last – Labour prime minister.
Oh Brave New Labour, that has such people in it…
Mick Hume is spiked‘s editor-at-large.
Previously on spiked
Mick Hume argued that parliamentary politics has become a battle of courtly cliques. Elsewehere he looked at the fall of Gordon Brown and argued that despite claims of a Labour revival you can’t revive a corpse. He also criticised David Miliband’s recent foreign policy initiative. And to mark the beginning of Gordon Brown’s reign, Brendan O’Neill listed 10 reasons why Brown is not fit to be Prime Minister. Or read more at spiked issues British politics.