In the name of Gord, go! It’s over. It’s not just the Crewe by-election, though that’s bad enough, but the weight of evidence from focus groups, opinion polls, the English local government results – the electorate just don’t want Gordon Brown as prime minister. It’s not going to change either, with the economy going down and your authority draining away.
Labour cannot afford to make the same mistake it made in 1983, going into an election with a leader – then Michael Foot – who could not win. That was electoral suicide. This is not time for sentiment – and you showed precious little of that when Tony Blair was in difficulties. Opposition parties do not win elections; government’s lose them, and, I’m afraid, you are a loser.
Cameron was on the ropes only a year ago, lambasted by crusty Tories over grammar schools, coming third behind the LibDems in by-elections like Ealing and Sedgefield. The Tory leader was rightly viewed as a privileged if youthful lightweight presiding over a geriatric party while making inept attempts to look green by cycling to parliament while a limo followed at a discreet distance. The Tories under Cameron were going nowhere – until you threw them a lifeline by bottling out of the election everyone knew you had been planning last October.
Cameron has now been transformed by policy errors like the abolition of the ten pence tax band and the £2.7 billion giveaway to neutralise it. Labour is on a knife edge, facing a major economic dislocation, with no ideas and a tired and morally threadbare image. All those hideous, money-grubbing memoirs by Labour figures like Cherie Blair, Lord Levy, John Prescott. Discredited figures with no redeeming features and zero talent peddling their private lives for profit. It is like the worst days of John Major. The Hamiltons. Then it was cash for questions; now it’s cash for contraceptives.
But the fish rots from the head down. It’s not nice to say it, but the voters have decided that they just don’t like you. They think you lack the courage of your convictions. The backdoor meeting with the Dalai Lama; the dithering over the Lisbon Treaty signing, Northern Rock the Olympic ceremony. Your relentless pursuit of approval from the Daily Mail betrays insecurity, instead of resolve, and it doesn’t make middle England any more willing to vote for you.
I believe you missed a real opportunity to change the climate of British politics after the fall of Tony Blair. People have had it with celebrity politics, with the irresponsible behaviour of the City, and wanted some real substance. But they wanted moral leadership, not toe-curling platitudes about your “moral compass”. You could have reconnected with Labour’s real moral thread – its traditional concern for fairness, egalitarianism and social responsibility.
A bit of hair shirt might not have gone amiss, for we are all going to have to don them soon anyway, with oil at $130 a barrel, house prices falling and recession looming. This would have been an excellent moment for a serious radical political leader of the left to come along, prepared to take the tough decisions, prepared to take on the vested interests in the City boardrooms who have brought the economy to its knees. The furore over the abolition of the ten pence tax band shows that people do want society to be fairer; they are morally outraged by the obscene wealth of the financial CEOs, with their million pound bonuses. It just required a leader to have the courage of Labour’s own convictions.
But enough of the past. The question now is Labour’s imminent defeat. The Tories are now within sight of winning a large majority at the next election and casting Labour into oblivion for a decade. it may be too late to save the Labour government, but that is no reason for not trying. David Miliband may not look like he is ready, but a proper Labour leadership election could change that. Desperate times require desperate measures.
This a tragedy for you personally, but it is also a tragedy for the left. David Cameron is right; New Labour is dead. But you had an opportunity to replace it with something better.