Thursday, January 7, 2010

Labour Couldn't Even Organise A Coup in Bolivia*

Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon. Photograph: Stephen Hird/ Toby Melville/Reuters

So all the rumours on Tuesday about a coup were, almost, right. Those rumours centred around a cabinet resignation triggering the overthrow of Uncle Gordo.

But, typical of the Labour party, and for the 3rd time since Brown finally managed to displace Blair after years his own coup plotting, it couldn't get its act together. The whole thing fell flat on it's malformed, premature face. Instead of a cabinet resignation all we got was a half arsed email circular to the Labour MPs suggesting they should support a call for a secret ballot on the Labour leadership. The perpetrators (or perpetraiters as some Brownite loyalists would have it) were the towering examples of competence: Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt. As soon as I heard this I realised the coup was going nowhere... unless a cabinet minister was to resign, as rumoured the day before.

It turns out there were actually two cabinet ministers who had agreed to step down as part of the coup. Read this excellent piece from Labour MP, Eric Joyce. Since leaving the collective responsibility of government on a matter of principle, he has proven to be a reasoned and independent mind within Labour and his blog is well worth a read.

As Eric Joyce explains, the rebel cabinet ministers showed impeccable cowardice and left Hoon and Hewitt high and dry:

"The other thing was that the cabinet ministers who’d held back, and of course the couple who’d pledged to act...bottled.  Their (the two ministers) weakness was ridiculous – as are they.   A lot of people know who they are, including Gordon.’s most newsworthy detail was that two cabinet ministers created a flap in the pigeon coop, but turned out not to be foxes but chickens."

Hoon and Hewitt must be very bitter today as now they are being portrayed as insane malcontents acting out of personal revenge rather than any thought for the Labour party or country. Why they didn't act earlier in coordination with previous rebels is anyone's guess. Perhaps it's just further evidence of institutional incompetence within Labour?

There's been a lot of spin since, trying to suggest that Labour is in fact strongly unified behind Brown and this attempt was limited to these two bitter individuals. But the long delays in cabinet ministers coming out to support Brown puts the lie to these claims. And when David Miliband finally stepped up to comment, his support was so lukewarm you'd have needed Ariel Excel Gel to wash your clothes in it**.

So, it's clear there are real divisions within the Labour party from top to bottom, and little confidence in their leader. What I find shocking is the fact that these concerns have existed since well before Brown became leader and nobody did anything to stop him repacing Blair and subsequently nobody, with any degree of competence, has done anything to remove him.

I really do think this reflects badly on Labour as a party. It shows it up as weak, intellectually and morally bankrupt and completely in thrall of its leader and his small band of henchmen (no women of course, they are just window dressing!). There seems to be a real fear to step up and challenge the leadership. Of course this is not unknown in other political parties. But usually only when the leader is being successful. Like Cameron and the Tories now. There are many unhappy with the moderate direction he's taken the party, including the "Turnip Taliban" revolting in the shires whenever they're made to select from a list of candidates that's not exclusively made up of white, middle aged men. Cameron currently gets his way, tries to persuade, but ultimately imposes his will. But remember, it wasn't that long ago there was serious talk about his leadership when Brown had a brief renaissance with the voters on his ascension to the Labour throne. The Tories had no quarms getting rid of Thatcher when she looked like an election loser. Labour, today, is very different. They desparetly need a new leader but don't have wherewithal to do anything about it. It's not good for them and it's not good for our democracy.

But it seems this coup may not be the last before the election. This is an extract from an article in The Guardian by Allegra Stratton:
"Independent of the backbench rebels, a much more serious challenge to Brown's leadership has been crystallising involving the left of the party, the right of the party and indeed an individual inside Downing Street: it involves a carefully thought-out common platform which is neither Blairite nor Brownite.
However, it remains to be seen whether the individuals involved will believe a move on this platform now is the best thing for the Labour party."
I doubt anything will happen now. I think most of the cabinet is now resigned to fighting the next election with Brown at the helm and, unless Maddie is found in David Cameron's basement, losing.

* Bolivia has seen 193 coups since independence in 1825, and thus holds the dubious world record in the number of coups.

** I am so very sorry about this sentence. I've been cooped up in the house for few days and am going quite mad.

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