UK Politics

A Very Scottish Coup?

Talk of an anti-Blair plot seemed fanciful a few weeks ago but it now seems blatantly obvious that a significant section of the Parliamentry Labour Party is working to remove the PM.

A concentrated series of attacks on Blair are coming from inside the Labour Party and from within the media, particularly the left-leaning media.

For those of us who do not follow closely the internal backbiting at Westminster, Andrew Rawnsley’s analysis in the Observer is very instructive.

While there is little doubt that Gordon Brown would be the beneficient if Blair fell, Rawnsley presents a convincing case that we are not witnessing a coup directly orchestrated by the chancellor.

“Gordon Brown does not need actively to plot and he would be harmed if he was ever caught doing so. He just watches and waits while his old friend and rival weakens. And the Chancellor prepares,” says Rawnsley.

He says the anti-Blair coalition is very loose – it includes the ‘Loathers’ who hated Blair since day one but they are “not sufficiently numerous to do it alone. The danger for Mr Blair is that they link arms with the Disillusioned, a group which intersects with the Dispossessed, the sacked Ministers and the never preferred who fester with a toxic mix of personal and ideological resentment on the backbenches”

And the newest group to find themselves lining up against the PM are the Panickers.

These are Labour MPs in marginal, traditionally Tory seats who are beginning to tremble that they will lose their livelihoods at the next election. As they twitch over the polls, they wonder whether a new leader might refresh their prospects.

I have to confess I have very mixed feelings about this whole situation. I have never been a big supporter of Blair and I am, like most people on the left, disappointed by the limited achievements of the government. A year ago I wouldn’t have cared tuppence if Blair was ousted by his own party.

Yet this past six months have seen the left divided bitterly over the invasion of Iraq. Those of us for whom solidarity with Iraqi and Kurdish democrats was of primary importance found ourselves in the strange (and for many uncomfortable) position of being in the same camp as Tony Blair.

When Blair spoke in parliament before the war (and perhaps even more so when he made the ‘humanitarian case’ for war at Glasgow a few weeks earlier) he was speaking for all those on the left who felt that removing Saddam was an act of liberation for the Iraqi people and that a war would be a just war.

When he spoke in Congress last week and reitterated the need for maximum unity in the fight against terrorism and tyranny he encapsulated the politics of those of us on the left who believe in defeating clerical fascism and globalising democracy.

Iraq is the issue around which the anti-Blair alliance has coalesced but on what basis? Are they presenting an alternative vision of Britain’s role in the world? No. Are they offering us a new foreign policy or another way of dealing with dictators and terrorists? They don’t tell us.

It would be easier to pick sides if there was a new left candidate emerging as a challenger, someone who combined Blair’s active internationalism with a more robust and more imaginative social-democratic agenda at home. But Gordon Brown is evidently not that person and those on the left who see a Brown led Labour Party returning to traditional Labour values are mistaken.

As Rawnsley puts it: They conveniently forget that it is the Chancellor who has been in control of economic and social policy for the past six years, as they also forget that it is the Chancellor who has been the principal architect of New Labour programmes, such as the Private Finance Initiative, that most repel unions and left-wing activists.

The anti-Blair alliance does not have much clear idea of what it wishes to change other than the personality of the leader in order to protect their careers.

For the left, the most positive achievement of Labour on the domestic front has simply been to keep the Tories out. That is a very modest minimal achievement of course but is it worth risking over personality politics?

Those of us on the radical democratic left have to admit that we have not yet found a clear agenda for domestic politics. We have not succeeded in finding a new route between the lack of ambition of the Third Way and the tired cliches of Old Labour rhetoric. Maybe in time we will but for the moment we are still treading water – in the meantime keeping the Tories out is our only fall-back position.

But, perhaps on an emotional level, I would be dismayed if the price Blair pays for his role in liberating people from genocide and terror is to lose power to those who put their personal careers first and who pandered to the gutless psuedo-liberals of the anti-war campaign (in which, as we have seen since the war, the London media is of far more import than the Stop the War Coalition).

In many ways Blair is to blame for this state of affairs inside the party. He is paying the price for helping create a Labour Party in which for a decade there has been no substantial debate over ideology or values. The result is a faction fight where principles are totally absent.

So, the sloganeers of the Campaign Group have found common cause with the nervous backbench nobodies and the jilted ex-Ministers in the pursuit of lowest common denominator personality politics.

At least in the internal battles of the 1980’s there were clear lines drawn over policy, over ideas, over what kind of party Labour should be. This new battle is being fought without any real political content.

I have to agree with Rawnsley’s conclusion: “They want rid of him, but they don’t know how. They want to boot out the most electorally successful leader in the history of the Labour Party, but they can’t say how that would make the Government more popular.

They want something different, but they don’t really agree on what. This makes you wonder who it is who most needs a session in the psychiatrist’s chair. “