Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Sean Fear’s Friday Slot


    Why I believe that Gordon is Safe

It is always dangerous to write about the internal culture of a political party which you are not a member of. Nonetheless, I will stick my neck out and say that I expect Gordon Brown to lead Labour into the next election.

That may seem a strange thing to say, on the morning after Labour’s sixth worst by-election result against the Conservatives, and when the Conservatives lead by anything up to 20% in opinion polls. Nevertheless, I am confident in making that prediction, even though I think that he is heading for almost certain defeat at the next election.

Firstly, I can think of no alternative who would be any more popular with the public. A recent Yougov survey found that a whole range of alternative Labour leaders would either be no more popular with the public than Brown, or else would be even more unpopular. A partisan Conservative like me would be delighted to see Labour MP’s overthrow Brown, and install someone like Harriet Harman as leader, but it just isn’t going to happen. There is no saviour figure among senior Labour politicians. Labour’s unpopularity, in my view, is not mainly down to voters disliking Gordon Brown (although they do). It is much more down to the fact that they have been in power so long that voters have grown sick of them, and just don’t want to listen to them any longer. A change of leader wouldn’t cure that.

Secondly, and related to my first paragraph, why would any senior Labour figure want the job? Who would wish to be responsible for leading the party to almost certain defeat? Nobody wishes to be a fag-end Prime Minister, and the Labour Party’s young Turks, such as Ed Balls and the Millibands, would surely see no advantage in following the example of William Hague, and becoming leader at precisely the wrong time.

Thirdly, although too much can be made of the constitutional difficulties of getting rid of a Labour leader (if they really wanted him to go, a way would be found) it does remain the case that Labour are far more reluctant to remove their leaders than the Conservatives are. Both Wilson and Callaghan led the Labour party through catastrophic by-election defeats, without being replaced. Attlee suffered two general election defeats, before standing down. Labour is reluctant to remove its leaders, and the bitterness engendered in the Conservative Party by Margaret Thatcher’s removal suggests they are right.

Parties can, obviously, act irrationally, and if the Parliamentary Labour Party panics, the momentum to get rid of Brown may become unstoppable. But I see no advantage to them in doing so.

There were no local by-elections last night.

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