hutch0 (hutch0) wrote,

  • Location:
  • Mood:
  • Music:

rotten boroughs - a week is a long time in politics

I'm still trying to get my head around the events of Friday and Saturday. I can't remember a British government ever going through a twenty-four hour period quite like it, certainly not in peacetime.
If I'm wrong, I hope someone will correct me, but I counted seven MPs and ministers jumping ship, some of them former heavy-hitters like Margaret Beckett, as the results came in on Labour's worst local council election results in...oh, ever such a long time, and Gordon desperately tried to reshuffle his Cabinet into some kind of credible shape.
The two eye-catching departures were James Purnell, who left calling for Gordon to `stand aside,' and Caroline Flint, who was replaced by Glenys Kinnock as Europe Minister in the reshuffle and whose resignation was accompanied by comments that Gordon treated female ministers as `window-dressing.'
Oddly enough, I think Gordon could survive these attacks. Purnell was obviously hoping other ministers would follow him, but nobody did, and he wound up like an officer going over the top on the Western Front, only to get halfway across No Man's Land and realise he's all alone. Flint's resignation and her comments have been regarded as a fit of pique for not getting a Cabinet job - the evening before, she'd said in an interview that she was `proud' to serve under Gordon and had no plans to resign. She's been at it again in one of today's Sunday papers, accusing Gordon of `using women for his own political ends,' but in the same article claiming she doesn't want to be a `wrecking ball directed at the Prime Minister or the government.'
Both she and Purnell are already fading from the public consciousness. Yes, they've chipped away at Gordon's authority, but only for other MPs and political journalists who like to write about how many MPs can dance on the head of a pin. They're gone, over.
More damaging may be the rumours - apparently true - that Gordon wanted to move Alistair Darling out of the Chancellor's job and install his old crony Ed Balls instead. There's a less credible story that Gordon wanted to move the boy Miliband out of the Foreign Office as well.
Anyway, neither of these things happened. If the stories are true, Alistair flat-out refused to shift, which is interesting as it makes you wonder just what he has on Gordon that enabled him to dig his heels in. It also makes you wonder what it bodes for the relationship between Prime Minister and Chancellor in future.
The commentariat hasn't been slow to point out that the big winner in all this has been Peter Mandelson. I did wonder, when Gordon brought Mandelson back into the fold a few months ago, what could have possessed him - it's said that the two men heartily loathe each other - but now I know why. Mandelson played an absolute blinder in the media over the weekend, taking on television pundits, defending Gordon and the government, and he was rewarded in the reshuffle with more power. He's now Deputy Prime Minister in all but name. Gordon knows he had no choice but to deploy Mandelson, but I think he also knows he's going to regret it.
Saturday, Gordon attended the D-Day commemorations in Normandy and I thought he looked terrible, a man in the depths of a nightmare for whom the 65th anniversary of the Overlord landings must have seemed like a few moments of light relief. Mind you, in comparison to President Obama, whose speech was genuinely moving, anyone would have looked bad.
Today, though, Gordon attended a council meeting in East London. It was televised, which is not usual, and it was obvious that this was something of a Potemkin meeting - everyone there was a friend, nobody asked him any hard questions - but I thought he looked pretty good. He'd obviously got some sleep, he made a good speech, he dealt easily with the questions. He looked hopeful, and that gave me pause.
I think he believes he's got away with it. The results of the British votes in the European elections will be released later - we voted on Thursday along with the council elections, but Europe traditonally votes on a Sunday so our results have been held back - and, once again, Labour's prospects don't look good. But there are ways the European results can be parsed that could minimise their impact. If the socialist parties across Europe also do badly, Gordon can say poor results here are simply part of an EU-wide trend, for example. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't think he could survive that, too.
Looking back, it seems that Thursday and Friday were the make-or-break time, and Gordon got through it intact. He did the important thing in putting together a Cabinet, and he seems to have circled the wagons.
Tomorrow he faces a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is likely to be full of very annoyed and rather fearful backbenchers. If he can calm them down and get them to believe it, I wouldn't bet against him surviving that too. It depends how many backbenchers want rid of him.
I'm starting to suspect that if he makes it to the end of next week without a leadership challenge or being caught cruising the streets of Soho at four in the morning in his official car with a brace of showgirls and a kilo of cocaine, he might survive this crisis. Which would be an extraordinary thing.

  • ...and here we go...

    Anyway, we're now a month away from the publication of Europe In Autumn in the States, and about six weeks away from publication here. And here is…

  • A Modest Announcement

    Remember many, many years ago when I kept posting word counts for the novel I was writing? Well, I finally finished the damn thing, and anyway, this.…

  • Spam

    Has this stuff been coming in since the Russians took over?

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.