Saturday, June 06, 2009 

Weekend links and hiatus.

After a week of high drama, at least if you're a political anorak, today appears to be the calm before the storm rushes in again tomorrow night. In the meantime, Lee Griffin on Lib Con makes the case against first past the post, Bob has a humourous post on how the chattering classes keep getting proved wrong, Paul Linford provides his weekly column on how Brown should go down fighting, Dave Semple attacks the "shallow cabinet", Tom Freeman has an outstanding long post which covers just about every base concerning what Labour should or should not now do, the Yorkshire Ranter reminds us of Tessa Jowell's past villiany and Dave Cole still thinks that Labour can win a fourth term.

In the papers, Matthew Parris thinks Gordon Brown has brought the government to its knees, rather than it being the other way around, Steve Richards believes Labour as a party is now ungovernable, while Peter Oborne says that Brown has become a prisoner of his own cabinet. On a completely different track, Howard Jacobson writes there is a nobility in opting out, especially thinking of JD Salinger.

Finally, as for worst tabloid article of the weekend, it's tempting to go with Jan Moir's assault on those other WAGs, the "Women against Gordon", which is a wonderful example of the Mail employing a woman to write a blatantly sexist article which a man could never have got away with, but the Sun has two even more tawdry pieces. First there's a shot of Sharon Shoesmith daring to read the Society Grauniad, which is a hugely important piece of news, and then there's the claim that dastardly gangs are melting down TVs and computer monitors to make bullets. Yes, bullets. This seems to be a Sun exclusive, and there might well be a reason for that.

And with that, I shall love you and leave you until next Friday.

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Friday, June 05, 2009 

Brown's bastards and the death of a once proud party.

To call Friday the 5th of June 2009 a day of contrasts would be something of an understatement. On the positive side for Labour and Gordon Brown, what was almost certainly a Blairite coup appears to have been averted, and with it, the Blairites themselves have almost to an individual been purged, or rather, for the most part purged themselves. The only Blairite true believers who remain in the cabinet are probably Tessa Jowell, who ought to be history, Andy Burnham and Peter Mandelson, but who now seems to have bizarrely became as pro-Brown as he was pro-Blair. Thanks to James Purnell, Brown has also apparently been foiled from carrying out the wholesale changes he wanted: Alistair Darling stays chancellor and Ed Balls, his supposed replacement, remains at education, both of which are non-changes for the better. Likewise, that both John Denham and Alan Johnson have been promoted, two of the most capable and pleasant ministers within the government is also a wise move. Johnson has the potential to be a vast improvement over the last three home secretaries (what happened to Shaun Woodward, being so talked up earlier in the week?), and you can also detect perhaps an ulterior motive from Brown, to be giving probably the most poisoned chalice within government to the man so heavily tipped to be his successor.

Those are however the only positives to be taken, as the local election results have been completely cataclysmic for Labour, something which the media, fascinated and intrigued by the machinations at Westminster has failed to really delve into. Labour lost control of its last four remaining county councils, and some of the wipeouts have been breathtaking, losing 30 of 32 seats in Staffordshire and 17 of 21 seats in Lincolnshire. Earlier in the week the talk was that if Derbyshire was lost then Brown should have been finished; it's gone, and he's for the moment clinging on. The results leave Labour with only around 130 councillors across such councils, and the party itself reduced to a rump, moribund with the activists in despair. We shouldn't write the party off, and the Conservatives have recovered from similar disasters, but it does make you wonder whether this isn't the slow, agonising death, not yet ofLabour itself, but New Labour certainly.

The ostensible Labour share of the vote is 23%, 1% down on its previous poorest showing, but that covers up just how terrible the kicking has been. Almost certainly the European election results will be even worse; it surely isn't unthinkable now that Labour's share of the vote could be well below 20%, and that is especially chilling when you consider how many former Labour supporters will have crossed the box for the BNP. Hopefully most will have plumped instead for UKIP or the Greens, but Nick Griffin gaining the respectability of a Europe seat is an ill wind about politics in general. That the Conservative vote has dipped to 38% from its previous high suggests that all are suffering to some extent, but Labour the most. The one consolation that remains is that on a similar share of the vote at a general election, unlikely as most who voted for the minor parties or stayed at home will return to the big three and turn out, the Tories will only have a majority of around 4 seats. This is still not yet a Conservative walkover, with the voters attacking Labour and politics as a whole rather than coalescing around David Cameron, although that may well be the next step.

Like earlier in the week, we should again be celebrating that another Labour careerist Blairite, as even John Prescott described James Purnell, walked the plank in such a sickeningly self-righteous manner. In his resignation letter, Purnell hilariously wrote that "[I]t calls for a government that measures itself on how it treats the poorest in society." This is the man that has just presided over changes to the benefit system that penalise, punish, harass and prosecute those very people. Even more staggering has been Caroline Flint's mood swing from backing Brown to the hilt only last night to deciding today that he had been using her and the other women in the cabinet as nothing more than "window-dressing". Mercilessly satirised by the Heresiarch, this seems to have far more to do with the fact that Brown didn't consider her for promotion, despite offering that she could attend cabinet, hence the throwing of the toys out of the pram in a political hissy fit that will have doubtless delighted the "women against Gordon" she was alleged to have been associated with. That she recently posed for the Observer in a range of dresses, some of which have predictably found their way onto the front pages of tomorrow's newspapers (not to mention this blog) seems to have done nothing to deter her from using such a potentially hypocritical turn of phrase.

One thing should be made clear. Despite the fact this is almost definitely a coup attempt led by Blairites (and every single resignation with the exception of Margaret Beckett has been by Blairites), there is no real quarrel here about policies. While there were policy differences in the past between the Blairites and Brownites, however slight, there is now nothing whatsoever to separate them. This is purely about Brown, and how they don't think they can win the election with him in charge, not that Alan Johnson or David Miliband will lead the party back into the promised lead of constant reforming revolution; Johnson after all has just been successful as health secretary mainly because he has allowed the NHS to settle after constant restructuring. This is why if Brown is to be overthrown, and that still in my opinion, despite everything, should not happen, it should be by the backbenchers, not the "bastards who have never had a job in their lives". There are still differences in opinion back there, and it is only they who can claim to have the interests of the party at heart. The anger at the grassroots at the manoveuring of Blears and Purnell is palpable, as the Grauniad's letters page shows, making a bad situation for those already stricken by the expenses scandal even worse.

Even then though, there is no indication whatsoever that they would be listened to. Brown certainly doesn't trust them, or rate them, as there will now be 7 unelected ministers in the cabinet. How can Brown or anyone else claim to be interested in genuine reform when he has to turn to the Lords repeatedly to shore himself up? While he may not have appointed peers in the same way that Blair did, this apparent contempt both for backbenchers and for the idea that our reprensentatives should be elected rather than cronies is another sign of his weakness. For now he might have saved himself, or rather the Blairites might have saved him through their own pitiful conspiring, but Labour is set to sink whoever is at the helm. 15 years of New Labour has destroyed it, and who knows how long it will be before even the slightest recovery will begin.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009 

James Purnell is a despicable Blairite cunt.

That is all.

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State of independence.

Barack Obama's speech in Cairo today, billed almost as a state of the nation address, except to the "Muslim" world, was never going to live up to the hype accorded to it. The challenge itself was fairly daunting: how, after 8 years of suspicion, conspiracy theories and such mutual apparent loathing was the president of the United States meant to even attempt to lance the boil?

The predictable answer was to shower love, tolerance and moral equivalence liberally all over those who deigned to listen. Obama quotes repeatedly from the "Holy Koran", which is unlikely to do much to win over those in the States that continue to accuse him of being little more than a Manchurian Muslim, and equally will do little to appease the hardliners that will take such quoting itself as an insult. He repeatedly broaches respect for the hijab, although he apparently mispronounced it Human rights are barely mentioned, as could have been expected from someone who has just visited Saudi Arabia and still praises their interfaith "dialogue", as well as while speaking from the capital of a nation where the president has ruled since 1981 without anything approaching democratic legitimation. Behind the warm words, there was very little that can be called substance, but that hardly seems to have been the modus operandi: this was meant instead to restart relations, and if you judge it on those grounds alone there's little to take too much offence from or to quibble with.

The only section that may well stand the test of time was also the most important, and if there was any doubt that Obama does mean what he says when it comes to Israel/Palestine, then the strength of his words and the equivocation between both Jewish and Palestinian suffering will surely concentrate minds:

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. Palestine's right to exist cannot be denied. The settlements have to stop. No recent president has put it both so simply and so powerfully. These things ought to be platitudes; everyone realises that all three of these things are facts, yet to make them so perfectly clear has been to invite brickbats from those who wish to either completely deny or slow to a standstill the movement towards an independent Palestinian state. Again, none of this is an actual change in US policy, but the Bush administration did little more than pay lip service to the idea that growth of settlements in the West Bank had to cease, and the outrage and dissent with which Israel has greeted Obama forcing the issue has shown the fear which the Israeli government has for the potential pressure which the US can bring to bear.

Some will sneer at Obama's last paragraph on I/P (below), especially its pie in the sky hope for religious unity in Jerusalem and wonder whether he truly will put his words into action, but he has clearly put his position forward, and he can now be held accountable for it. Too much hope has already been put in Obama's potential for real change, but to finally make the case for a Palestinian state's right to exist as forcefully as Israel's itself is as fine a position to start from as could have been expected.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true. Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009 

Vote early, vote often, vote Green, and bash the fash.

It's easy to forget that amidst all the plotting there is an election tomorrow, albeit one that will probably result in a turnout around the 40% mark. For those of us in England, it's a special shame as this is the one election where our vote actually counts: we can vote for a party far more in line with our actual views without knowing that by doing so we're helping those we dislike the most to win.

Even so, you can't exactly say that you're spoilt for choice. Personally, the only parties worth considering are the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, NO2EU and possibly the Socialist Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats are without doubt now the best "big" party, and the one I'll most likely be casting my vote for come the general election. The Greens however are for the most part a breath of fresh air, whom although undoubtedly are rather authoritarian on some measures, and crackpot on alternative medicine, should now be the main home for those who consider themselves even vaguely left-of-centre, at least when it comes to Europe, for the reasons outlined by the (Daily) Maybe and Peter Tatchell. As interesting as NO2EU potentially could be, although I'm hardly much of a fan of Bob Crow, their ridiculous policy of not even sitting in the European parliament if they are elected ought to rule them out. You don't reform something by putting yourself above it. Likewise, the SLP is little more than a vanity project for Arthur Scargill, and while as a protest vote against Labour itself it might be worth a cross, otherwise the Greens are the best party to coalesce around.

The best reason to get out though is to deny the British National Party even the slightest opportunity of gaining any seats. As disenchanted with politics as many are now, the answer is not a party with a leader convicted of inciting racial hatred, whose elected councillors are so useless that they often hardly bother to turn up to the meetings where they are supposed to represent those who voted for them. While we shouldn't panic too much if they do gain a seat, as seems possible, it would still be shameful for the country which fought fascism, albeit too late, to finally succumb to the hatred which is all the BNP has to offer. Voting for any other party, even UKIP or the Christians, is preferable to not turning out when every vote counts. Don't think also that your area is unlikely to vote BNP; I thought they'd do poorly here, but last time round they got over 3,000 more votes than UKIP. The Greens deserve to do well, but anyone other than the BNP will do.

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With a bang, not a whimper.

Normally the departure of Hazel Blears would be a wonderful cause for celebration. The epitome of absolutely everything wrong, not just with New Labour, but with politics as a whole, she jumped before she was pushed. No one imagined that Blears, despite being an awful politician, was also on the make or out to "take what was hers", in the words of Michael Martin; perhaps her expenses are still a genuine oversight or based upon bad advice from the fees office. It was however the icing on the cake when it came to someone who based their entire career up until very recently on unstinting, unquestioning loyalty and belief in the righteousness of absolutely everything that New Labour has done, manifesting itself most vividly in her recent interview with George Monbiot, when her wild-eyed fanaticism looked as if turning instead into sad, desperately lonely certainty.

In normal times, Blears would be a pygmy, in more than one sense. There is however no other interpretation but that this was further revenge from a woman who has been both scorned and wronged, who knew she had the power to inflict yet more damage on an already flailing prime minister. Whether she was involved in the leaking of Jacqui Smith's resignation, as alleged by some in Downing Street or not, this was without doubt a further act to that. Her resignation letter is as pointed, both in its repeated emphasis on how she will be returning to her roots, and in its failure to pay any real tribute to Brown.

Downing Street should have been able to laugh this off. This is after all a non-entity, someone with ideas above their station who failed miserably when she stood for the deputy leadership, coming dead last. Her brand of clap-happy, shiny smiley ultra-Blairism could not be more out of fashion, and her brandishing of a cheque on television to pay back the over £10,000 she owed in capital gains tax could not have been further removed from those she claims to have backed and defended her entire life. Some of those doubtless could not have put together a cheque for £100, let alone that sum. Indeed, for someone who claims to have the interests of the Labour party at heart, she has almost certainly just cost some Labour councillors their seats, and taken votes away from their European candidates. The irony of the local government minister, through an act of petulant, pathetic self-indulgence, doing the equivalent of shoving a bottle up local Labour activists will ensure that her return to Salford is unlikely to be a happy one.

Quite how weakened Number 10 has been by this is shown by someone having the temerity to claim that Brown and others had "smeared" Blears by apparently leaking further information about her tax payments to the Torygraph. Blears has just done the equivalent of leaving a turd on the doorstep of Brown's den, and her allies are suggesting she's the victim in all of it! Whether there is a concerted plot by "friends" of Blears, almost all Blairite women, which includes Jacqui Smith, who seemed to laugh her way through a Sky News interview to kill Gordon through bleeding to death from a thousand cuts or not is impossible to tell. What is clear however is that despite the claims of Polly Toynbee, this does have the potential to cause deep resentment within the party, perhaps not on the level which consumed some Tories after Thatcher was deposed, but poison nonetheless. The plotters almost to an individual all seem to be Blairites, or Blairite-sympathisers, some who have always either disliked or loathed Brown, and now seem to finally sense they can have their revenge. This wouldn't be completely ignoble if there was a genuine leader waiting in the wings who could unite the party once Brown goes, but there isn't. Does anyone honestly believe that Alan Johnson is a long-term Labour leader rather than a stop gap? Is David Miliband even approaching ready to become prime minister, even only for a couple of months until he'd have to call an election?

There is however still one way out of all this, as proposed by the Heresiarch, which I thoroughly agree with and am rather shamelessly borrowing. Brown on Friday should go to the palace and ask for parliament to be dissolved for an election. It's the one thing that would wrongfoot absolutely everybody, his opponents in the party, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and doubtless the Queen herself. The Labour ranks would be forced to get behind him, the other parties would have to actually tell us what their alternative will look like, and it would also appease those who are demanding an election now because of the expenses scandal. It would remove those who have said they are standing down far quicker than they might like, also a very good thing. At the same time there could also be that referendum on voting reform, a vote for which David Cameron could almost certainly not ignore, and which would be one thing which Brown could cite as his legacy, as well as being the biggest change which the expenses debacle demands. Whatever Brown now does, he's going to lose. Why doesn't he go down fighting, not just for his leadership but for the country as well?

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009 

Even the Mona Lisa is falling apart.

If the weekend and yesterday were bleak times for the government and especially Gordon Brown, then today can only be described as the worst of times. Normally, the announcement that three ministers would be stepping down would be only met with a shrug, even if the home secretary was among them. Such though is the precarious position which Labour finds itself in, it instead looks as if this a complete breakdown of control from the very top.

Again, no one will be shedding any tears for the departure of Jacqui Smith. She may be, as Iain Dale says, "a thoroughly nice woman", but she was simply the worst of all worlds when it came to being in charge of the Home Office. Having been promoted from chief whip, it was her expenses claims which did for her, but it really should have been both her dreadful failure to make the case for any of the policies which she was attempting to ram through parliament, and doubtless connected to that, the fact that all she seemed to be doing was instituting policies that had been decided for her. The one policy that she did have any real apparent interest in, the ridiculous and dangerous idea that men that paid for sex with women that were "controlled" by others could be charged with rape has had to be toned down, with the police highly critical of how on earth they were supposed to be able to enforce it. She can't exactly be blamed for the 42 days debacle, as that was undoubtedly Brown's policy as much as it was hers, but her continuing attraction to identity cards, her knee-jerk response to the knife crime panic of last summer, and most of all the Damian Green disaster, as well as the ludicrous banning of various "extreme" individuals all made her a typically tin-eared Labour home secretary. She wasn't quite as bad as either David Blunkett or John Reid, both of whom could have been accurately described as two of the most dangerous men in the country when they were at the Home Office, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement of her tenure.

Everyone though expected Smith to be out of a job come the reshuffle. It's that somehow, either she or someone couldn't keep the fact she was leaving out of the public domain until the time as when Brown had made his decision as to who her replacement will be. The question, as always, has to be whether it's conspiracy or cock-up, whether the leak is meant as a passing fusillade against Brown for the lack of support she seems to have been given. There is, it must be said, always rumour mills whirling furiously before expected reshuffles, but when a prime minister is as weak as Brown currently is, it seems utterly bizarre that he should be adding to it himself as he seems to have been by not given Alistair Darling his full support. Darling, as others have pointed out, has spent the last couple of years taking the flak for Brown, as it is after all his work while chancellor which has left Darling in such an enfeebled position, yet despite his loyalty and willingness to eat the equivalent of a shit sandwich repeatedly for his master, he's now been left out in the cold like the other miscreants which Brown thinks he can sacrifice. We all know why Hazel Blears' expenses claims can be described as "totally unacceptable" while James Purnell and others are given more equivocal backing, but why treat Darling in such a way?

It gives the impression that Brown has lost whatever remaining grip he had. Not the grip on the party itself - that had long gone, but now his hand seems to have left the tiller of the cabinet as well, those few that will still publicly defend him. Such events will always be exaggerated, but the Daily Mail again doesn't seem too far off tomorrow when it screams that the rats are leaving the sinking ship. If you wanted to indulge in conspiracy, as alluded to above, you might think that Smith's leaving was designed to make everyone engage in just this sort of speculation. Why else would you further undermine a prime minister prior to elections where it now seems credible that Labour could face its worst ever post-WW2 results unless you wanted to throw a spanner completely into the works?

Right on cue, the muttering in the Grauniad by the likes of Pollyanna Toynbee, Jackie Ashley and Martin Kettle has moved from their columns into the editorial itself. Tomorrow it calls for Brown to go with dignity. It isn't a bad argument, as far as they go, but it's the wrong timing again. The time for Brown to go and still retain some respect was last summer, not now. To go now would be utter humiliation, and surely those who wrote it must realise that. Regardless of Brown's mistakes and his personal failings, he still doesn't deserve such an ignominious fate. It is however typical of the modern Guardian that it called far too late for Blair to go and it now abandons Brown at the worst possible time, both for him and for the party. For far too long it indulged Blair's worst excesses with meek criticism while it has repeatedly failed to show the same fairness towards Brown. Who are these other individuals in the cabinet that would do a better job, but which the paper doesn't even deign to name? It too can't face up to the reality: that regardless of leader Labour in its current form is doomed. It needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up, to re-engage with its roots, to become a genuine party of the working person again. No one in the current cabinet is prepared for such radical thinking. It has become a small "c" conservative party, on some measures even more right-wing than the actual Tories themselves are. No party can so disengage from its supporters for so long and expect to survive, and it is at long last facing its denouement. The Mona Lisa itself is falling apart.

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All these war criminals look the same.

Does Henry Kissinger realise that he's morphing into Ariel Sharon?

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Monday, June 01, 2009 

The slow death of New Labour part 94.

Come up with any cliché of impending doom, and it will probably at the moment apply to Labour. Not since the Tories self-destructed so spectacularly during the early 90s has any party looked so utterly broken and devoid of hope. The difference it seems is that the Conservatives by 97 had all but accepted their fate; even now a few true believers and party hacks seem to imagine that by overthrowing Brown and installing someone, anyone, most likely either a Johnson or a Miliband, the inevitable might still be avoided, or at least a complete wipeout fought off. The polls though offer no comfort whatsoever: volatile as they may be, to be down on 22%, behind the Liberal Democrats on voting intentions if there was to be a general election now is to be staring into that hackneyed abyss, with a new poll now suggesting it could be as low as 18%.

Much as such a pitiful score deserves sympathy, no one can claim that Labour didn't bring this on themselves, or that politicians as a whole didn't know what was coming. Our political system rewards two things above all else: loyalty and strength, or at least a faux variety of it. The problem is that when those two things are combined, hubris, contempt and complacency take over. Most notably this seems to have claimed Hazel Blears, James Purnell and Geoff Hoon. Even those that have minute majorities, such as Jacqui Smith, were not immune to the belief that Labour, despite every past indication, was set to become the natural party of government. It would be nice to imagine that this is belated justice for Iraq, but the real reason has now been hanging around for 3 weeks, and still shows no sign of coming to an end.

The latest victim, Alistair Darling, previously the most boring and presumably with it least extravagant member of the cabinet is reduced to saying he is "very sorry" for his various expenses claims, not to mention his repeated apparent flipping of his second home. That it seems increasingly likely that Brown will move him from the Treasury after the coming disaster of the local and Euro elections in 72 hours, most probably with his equally egregious acolyte Ed Balls as the replacement, it brings to mind another cliché, the one about reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Again, there is no one here to blame but themselves, so woeful has the Labour response been to the expenses disaster. Politicians certainly deserve something resembling a break, and overreacting can often be worse than doing nothing, but while both David Cameron and Nick Clegg were doing something last week, even if it was self-serving calls for reform, Brown was nowhere in sight. When he does finally reappear, on Andrew Marr's soft sofa to answer his soft questions, he bizarrely brings up his "Presbyterian conscience", something that has up until now seemingly left him completely untroubled.

The way that the opprobrium seems to have landed almost squarely on Labour is certainly to an extent unfair. Both main parties have their villains; the difference has been that Cameron has played his cards both superbly and cruelly. Even while some of his closest allies and shadow cabinet members have been found to have been some of the worst cheats, most notably Michael Gove, who flipped his second home, claimed £7,000 for furniture and £500 for a night's stay at a hotel, while earning just as much from his newspaper column as he does as an MP, he's succeeded at hugging them close while throwing his backbenchers to have erred to the lions. Brown, by contrast, although alleged by supporters of Hazel Blears to have snubbed her, in contrast to those less explicitly critical of him, has left all those accused out in the cold, and with it ensured that his party as a whole has become tarred with the same brush. Part of it also that as the government they're always going to be the ones to take the biggest kicking, but such has been Labour's inertia that any chance of lessening the damage has been abandoned.

It's still strange though to see the Mail front page claiming that "the vultures" are circling: even though we know that Paul Dacre and Gordon are such wonderful friends, the Mail has hardly ever gone out of its way to give him anything approaching real support, much less his party. It does though has it right: getting rid of Brown now remains the most ridiculous act of vanity which the party could indulge in. Nothing now is going to save them, not even Alan Johnson with his "wonderful" background. Only a party (and its supporters) that has completely lost its grip on reality could imagine that installing a second "unelected" prime minister within a parliament at a time of such cynicism and anger could turn things around. The best possible thing that the party and government could do now is spend the next year being as uncontroversial and all things to all people as it possibly can; go into the dark night with dignity, accepting defeat and then start to rebuild from the ground up. Instead its humiliation and time in the wilderness will be all the more damaging because it still has pretensions which can no longer be justified. And to stretch emphasis by repetition to breaking point, they have no one to blame but themselves.

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John 4 leader 2 years on.

Via Dave Semple, this speech by John McDonnell is quite something. How different things might be if by some miracle he had become Labour leader two years go, or even if he ascended to the leadership now.

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