The Thick of It


Monday, August 04, 2008

Do we need a new captain?

Does Labour need a "captain" in charge to arrest the slide in the polls as most media comment suggests, or do we need to back the one we already have?

Writing at Labourhome, John Prescott claims that "it wasn’t the Captain that sank the Titanic – a ship they claimed was unsinkable - it was the iceberg. The best way to avoid disaster is to manage your way around the problem...For me, it’s all about setting the right course. That’s why I’ve always favoured policy over personality and why I believe Gordon’s the right captain."

Favouring policy over personality is a virtuous ideal but politics isn't ideal. New Labour's success was based on pushing a slick, well branded personality politics onto the country when politics had become tired after the Major years. In London recently Boris Johnson won a battle of personality politics over Ken Livingstone. This is the battleground on which political fights are won. Without the personality the policy doesn't matter.

Gordon Brown has become a victim of this. Media commentators have decided that the Tories are credible for the first time in a generation and that Brown is not. Once momentum is lost and is running against you it is impossible to regain. However, a new leader might not be the answer, as last week's polls showed that Labour would be just as unpopular with David Milliband at the helm. Labour cannot afford a leadership election financially, let alone a general election that would become impossible to resist if a new leader were elected.

Labour is faced with Hobson's choice. It would be far simpler if the party showed discipline. To backed a Brown leadership the party and country needs to see him offering strong leadership and fresh ideas. At the moment that isn't the case. I fear that the party could end up in the worst of all positions, new leader, new elections and yet the same result than if Brown stays = defeat.

This is likely because Labour feels rudderless with the party and country reacting to the media fervour for blood. Following the media rather than leading it, new Labour was once famed for doing the latter, is exactly what put Labour in this mess in the first place. The nonsense over the election that never was permanently damaged Brown's leadership credentials and he has never recovered. At the time I thought a general election unnecessary yet the speculation was only nipped in the bud when the damage was already done.

1 comment:

Alex Finnegan said...

Firstly, no one should ever use Titanic comparisons. Enough said.

Secondly, New Labour was not just about "pushing a slick, well- branded personality politics onto the country." This helped but NL actually stood for something in 1997. We had changed our policies and looked like a party ready to govern. It wasn't just superficial. There was substance behind us and that lasted for a long time.

Thirdly, the problem isn't Brown's personality alone. There is a vacuum at the heart of the Government. I have no idea what it stands for and what direction it is going in. This is what needs to be sorted before we look at the image stuff.

I share your concern that the real danger may be that we change leader and end up in the same position as we are now. This would be a nightmare. It's better that we stop the rubbish about personality and concentrate on the policy stuff first and foremost. This will get the media and more importantly the public to take us seriously.