16 September 2009

AJ4PM: Full steam ahead

While yesterday was rudely interrupted by a man reluctant to change, today we must once again look to the future if the Labour party is to save itself.

The evidence is mounting that a change of leader is really the only alternative on offer for the Labour party.  Out of the traps comes the final part of Anthony Well’s masterful journey from Blair’s 2005 election victory to where we are now.  Wells rejects the argument (rightly) that governments always recover moving towards an election and lists his views on Labour’s present position:

(1) They no longer have the luxury of facing an unappetising opposition
(2) They have failed to put forward a coherent narrative or purpose
(3) They have been in power for 12 years, carry the accumulated blame of all that’s gone wrong and the public want a change
(4) They have an unpopular and unlikeable leader who doesn’t connect with the public

Now, it is (4) we must concentrate on here.  His views are very important, are well worth reading in full, and underpin what John Rentoul, along with his chief supporter, have been saying for months:

Gordon Brown’s lack of personal charisma is an obstacle, so is the lack of goodwill towards the government. People would have been a lot more willing to listen to Gordon Brown laying out his new government’s great purpose when he first became Prime Minister, my impression is that now a sizeable proportion of the public has just stopped listening.

There are a couple of cards still in the deck: when the recession formally ends and the headlines announce “Recession Ends” that could yet give them a boost. Cameron’s response to the Lisbon referendum in Ireland also has potential to give him some internal party difficulties. The biggest possible game changer though is if Labour have one last go at getting rid of Gordon Brown before the election (or if Gordon Brown himself decides to stand down).

My view is however that it is Labour’s only real chance of avoiding defeat. A new leader would almost certainly connect better with the public, they could grab the opportunities that Brown missed during summer 2007 and use whatever brief honeymoon they had to put forward a clear offering, and clearly differentiate themselves from the Blair/Brown government, portraying themselves to be the change the public desire.

Could it be enough for them to win? I really don’t know, it depends on too many imponderables, it could collapse into factional warfare and make things even worse, and it may be too late for anything to save them. That said, I think it is Labour’s last, best chance.

It is doubtful that “Recession Ends” will give Brown a boost.  At the moment Brown is playing catch-up with the Tories.  More importantly, the unemployment figures (the latest are out today) will not help with that little cunning plan.

Cameron’s problems over Europe may well bubble up, but that is unknown at present (the latest news from Ireland is that the No campaign is making a late surge) and Labour can’t rely on that ‘little local difficulty’ to have much of an impact.

Wells is right that the “game changer” may not be enough for Labour to win, but it certainly will help avoid the catastrophe that awaits.  As discussed, if the change is managed, then “factional warfare” will be avoided.

As an aside comes these poll findings from Populus, which indicate that Brown is only trusted by his own supporters, but not by others.  This makes the case for retaining him much harder to sustain, as it the “others” that he must appeal to.

So, the AJ4PM campaign motors along as we await the unfolding drama of the conference season proper (remember 2007) and those all important polls that will follow.  Then, and only then, will Brown’s fate be sealed.

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