In Britain we are not faced with an immediate election contest. Rather with the death by a thousand cuts of Gordon Brown, where rumours keep circulating of Labour MPs wanting him to either change his leadership or step down. The latest being MPs seeking nomination papers to change the Labour leader prior to the party conference.
Not quite up there the Obama/McCain campaign. This is whispers and murmurs, and stories recycling themselves into fresh intrigues in dark corridors. Discipline seems lacking (not surprising when your own whips turn against you) as backbench MPs challenge on issues ranging from stamp duty on houses, fuel allowance payments and the recent demands for a windfall tax on energy companies. On these issues it seems that Number Ten is being led rather than providing the leadership – and MPs feel like Brown has his hand on the tiler of the Titanic.
Once he was thought as a sure winner for Labour – much was made at the last General Election that he would succeed Blair. There was even suggestions that Blair would only win with Brown. Now, it seems the only person that would do better than Brown is Blair (though as he is not an MP highly unlikely). Though that poll reflects that anyone replacing Brown would not shift party fortunes with the iceberg of a Cameron revived Conservative Party taking over. The once thought unsinkable Brown appears very vulnerable.
If some MPs believe that Labour will be out of government then part of their behaviour which seems disloyal and undermining can be seen as trying to influence the government to have a radical socialist agenda which would be impossible under a Conservative Government. Another way of looking at it is that with the election lost, lets do what grass root activists would like. They may even hope that such policies may genuinely improve opinion polls, or at least save their seats at the next election.
Where Brown went wrong was to give the impression he would call a General Election soon after being nominated unopposed to the Labour leadership – to receive a symbolic mandate from the people (which constitutionally comes from his MPs). In many ways appearing chicken by not calling it having allowed the rumours for several months made him loose the bounce he had when becoming Prime Minister.
How can Gordon improve things? He needs to rally the troops – if he cannot unite the party on common
ground, or inspire natural supporters h will continue to look weak. He has to look like he is in charge of the agenda. Writing and editing books while Prime Minister, despite his work ethic, is not helping his image. He is not a natural orator (unlike Tony Blair) – but he needs to play to his strength as a man of details who knows what is going on, and leadership that he knows what he is doing rather then reacting to events.
Above all he has to realise that he has to earn the right to be Prime Minister every moment. He had no natural right to it as a successor to Tony Blair. Nor have Labour MPs been elected with him as their leader. The moment to call an early election is over. Right now the government has to show that when it comes to economic turmoil their social justice agenda and economic competence of the past means they are treid and tested, and with current policies a new Conservative Government lacking experience is not worth the risk.
It is a tall order. Perhaps Gordon Brown does not want to take the risks involved, or even believe that he can do this. In answer he has to fake it till he makes it. Past glories as Chancellor, bringing in the minimum wage and independence are not enough now with Northern Rock going bankrupt and a faltering economy.
As the whispers show, even his own MPs are beginning to voice that he cannot make the grade. The media, lacking anything of real significance and lusting after the US election campaign, go for intrigue and machinations. Where survival depends on Turkey’s not voting for Christmas, Brown needs to hush his critics, or do what John Major did with a put up or shut up challenge which showed balls inviting a leadership challenge after winning a General Election – which he won.
The fact that I am suggesting that John Major showed better leadership qualities than Gordon Brown is in itself a testament to the hole Gordon Brown has dug himself in. He needs to climb out, and he needs to reassert his leadership. The fact that no one else can improve the fortunes of the party gives him the cover to be bold. Otherwise the cuts will at some point draw enough blood to bring him down.