Thursday, September 07, 2006

Please let's not have another nine months of this

I thought it was nice of Tony Blair to offer to stop being Prime Minister to coincide with my birthday next year, and I thought that the idea of the farewell tour was quite funny (in a demented sort of way). But I don't see how him carrying on til May is a good idea, unless it is the case that Gordon Brown can't beat David Cameron at the next election, and therefore John Reid or Alan Johnson ought to be Leader.

Given that the policy differences between Brown, Reid and Johnson are minimal, and the pleasing realisation that someone like Stephen Byers or Alan Millburn would get absolutely thrashed in a leadership election because of their close association with Blair, it does matter that we get the leader best placed to beat the Tories next time.

It is often said that David Cameron is following Tony Blair's strategy in the run up to 1997. A better parallel is with the Republicans before 2000. They realised that they couldn't win an election with leaders who talked about what they actually wanted to do, so they got a wealthy, reasonably personable leader who talked about 'compassionate conservatism' while making sure he kept the rich on side. And this strategy was almost enough to win the Republicans the election.

At the next election, the 'New Labour' coalition won't give us enough votes to win. Whoever the new leader is, there will be people who voted Labour or Lib Dem last time who will vote Tory next time just because the Tories will be making some kind of attempt to appeal to normal people for the first time in nearly twenty years. Given how small our majorities are in marginal seats in the South East, just this would be enough to remove our majority.

A new leader could build a new coalition, including people who have voted Labour through thick and thin, winning back some of the people who voted Labour in 1997 and/or 2001 but who have got disillusioned, and giving the people who identify with Labour, but who don't vote more reasons to use their vote to stop the Tories getting back in. We know that this 'compassionate conservatism' is a sham, and there are enough people in the country who prefer a Labour government to us having our very own George Bush as Prime Minister to win us the next election.

But we can't get started on building this new coalition while George Bush's closest ally is still Prime Minister, and while we have nothing but policies which are spun as cracking down and punishing the disadvantaged while appeasing the better off while we whisper about the good that Labour does. There is no reason to believe that Alan Johnson or John Reid would be any better at building this coalition than the leader in waiting who has been preparing for this for years. And a quick election where Brown faced a challenge from John McDonnell and a true blue Blairite, with some of the other able people contending to be deputy leader, would let us spend the next few years with a much improved government and every chance of winning again.

I didn't realise quite how much I wanted us to have a new leader until the last few days. Nine months of 'phoney war' where Blair's allies try to build up an alternative to Brown, followed by an election which leaves lots of people disillusioned and embittered, is a horrible idea, as is the idea of a nasty and bitter fight which splits the party now. We need a new leader, and we need Blair to accept this very soon. The irony is that if he does, then he's much more likely to get the positive legacy, the farewell tour and to leave the crowd wanting more than if he follows his present course.


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