Friday, 10 October 2014

Leadership challenges: a coda

The other day my friend John Rentoul helpfully pointed out an Australian counter-example to my last piece on leadership challenges: that Bob Hawke had won on the back of a usurpation (and, I now realise, was later usurped himself by Paul Keating), and it hadn’t done him any harm, in fact he went on to win four elections.

In fact, I had been talking about Kevin Rudd’s last-minute unseating of Julia Gillard last year, but it was an interesting thought nonetheless (I had never realised so much rampant usurping went on in Australia, for a start).

So, successful last-minute bids do happen, if infrequently. I would also argue, though, that Australia’s ALP has a more highly-developed tradition of back-stabbing, I mean, er, rough-and-tumble politics than exists in our mostly-cuddly British Labour Party. And that tradition also makes it more acceptable; I am not sure that British voters (not to mention party members) would react in the same positive way to such goings-on on this side of the world.

The other point to note is that Hawke’s win was under highly unusual circumstances: the incumbent PM had disastrously called a snap election thinking that the previous opposition leader, Bill Hayden, would be running and not the more popular Hawke. He was then, I presume, gobsmacked to find that in the intervening hours, Hawke had taken the crown from Hayden. Not all, but part of Hawke’s success story was to ride that fluke wave into office.

Finally, a second thought: when in power (as were Hawke and Gillard when ousted, not to mention Thatcher, although later) it is surely easier to make a transition, in the case that the public broadly likes your party running the country but is a bit sick of the leader.


It’s not the same as opposition, where the leader is largely untested and unknown - aspiring candidates have not had the benefit of years in a heavyweight job in the public eye, or at least not recently. So in the current situation a last-minute leadership bid is even less likely to be successful, because we're in opposition rather than government.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Leadership challenge? You can’t be serious

It is always a little unwise to make predictions, as us bloggers occasionally find some time later, to our shame and embarrassment.

But perhaps we can venture one now. If there is a silly season within conference season, it is surely within Lib Dem conference. And this year, a few MPs and journalists have used its abject pointlessness as an excuse to take a break from serious politics.

And, indeed, from reality altogether: they have convinced themselves that a Labour leadership challenge is in the air, as these pieces from the
Telegraph and the Mail show.

Only it’s not. Or, at least, it’s incredibly unlikely.

Oh, that’s not to say that some aren’t thinking about it, some even vaguely seriously. It’s always good to check where one’s political stock is, and a dip in the polls is an attractive time to do so.

But there are a lot of good reasons why it is merely fanciful thinking – more a crying into one’s beer in a Manchester hotel bar than a serious, credible campaign briefing.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Human rights? Nah. I've got a party to placate.

While it seems Labour are busy doing all we can to leave the centre ground to the Tories, as the FT's Janan Ganesh pointed out yesterday, they seem to be doing the same to us, in a bizarre "after you, Claude, no, after you, Cecil" stylee. 

This is nothing that new (in fact, I wrote about it a couple of years back) but, this close to an election, it just reinforces the impossibility of calling which way it will go.

The example of vacating the centre ground given by Cameron's speech this week is on the imbecilic dumping of the Human Rights Act, to replace it with some kind of Bill of Rights (it remains to be seen whether that will be the same, or weaker, than the existing European Convention). 

The main point being, he is positioning this as a precursor to "reform" of the ECHR (or rather, pulling out of it, although he dare not say so). If Britain can't cherry-pick which rulings it follows, then the explicit threat is that it will pull out altogether.

In other words: unless you other forty-six signatories do just as I say, I'm taking my bat and ball home. Assuming that the rest of Europe will tell Britain where to stick it and not allow it to destroy the Convention altogether through such a precedent being set, we are out.

Now Cameron gave a decent speech, has had a good week and may yet have secured a post-conference bounce in the polls. But this is a move, for short-term political considerations, which may yet reverberate down the years as a particularly foolish one.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

ISIL: can we just get this straight, please?

I am pleased to report that the Mother of all Parliaments has finally decided that, although it was perfectly prepared for two hundred thousand Syrians to die over the last three years, a great many of whom have died since its vote on the matter last year, it has finally relented on military action in the Middle East, in order to try to stop ISIL and, quite probably, the disintegration of the entire region. 

However, in order for the West not to be seen to back down on its earlier decision against intervention in Syria, it is only intervening in Iraq (where there are some ISIL fighters) rather than Syria (where there are a lot of ISIL fighters and is their main stronghold). 

We shall see if it is not too little, too late, but what is certain is that a stitch in time would have saved nine. Our last brush with Syria

As a sideshow, we are also being treated now-familiar symptoms of the current political malaise of neo-isolationism, i.e. the onset of chronic logical contortions. In this case, the argument is that we are defending a sovereign, democratic state and that therefore this all perfectly fine where it wasn't before in Syria, a case of mere genocide.

That is not to say, of course, that we do not have good reason to act.

I realise this is churlish of me, and that I should be happy that we are doing anything at all but I can't help but be disappointed at the consistency of my own party on the issue.

Compare and contrast Tuesday's Leader's Speech:
We support the overnight action against Isil, what needs to happen now is that the UN needs to play its part. A UN Security Council resolution to win the international support to counter that threat of Isil.
With yesterday's statement in the Commons debate:
"Third, there must be a clear legal base to provide legitimacy and legal force to our actions. We support this motion today because we would be responding to the request of a democratic state in Iraq fighting for its own survival. This is recognised in the UN Charter."
In other words, in the space of three days our insistence on UN backing we has gone from requesting a Security Council resolution to saying, er, it's in the Charter, so this is all fine.

It is not, I hasten to add, that we need either. We do not even need a Commons debate; that is a very recent convention, introduced by one T. Blair. Our last brush with a vote related to Syria, which faltered over a similar quibble regarding legitimacy, ended disastrously.

But, whether you agree with military action or not, why insist on something in a Leader's Speech which - as I pointed out in my review of the speech here - is not remotely on the table, because the Russians (and quite probably the Chinese as well) will veto? And so you will then have to back down on it and look silly?

Because, I'm afraid, one did not think carefully enough about the realpolitik before opening one's mouth.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Ed’s speech needed to change the political weather. It didn’t

23 September, 2014: the culmination of four years as leader. Milliband’s last major pitch to lead the country, for this parliament at least.

From now, time can only tell whether it has been the gateway to a whole new vista of politics for Miliband and the keys to No. 10; an attempt to convince his party that he would be still the best option after a narrow defeat; or some kind of a swansong.

Now, the central message of the speech is one which resonates – with the Tories, you’re on your own. The many not the few. We all believe in that, it’s what makes us Labour. And Miliband rightly points up the transparent makeover that David Cameron made of his party, in order to get elected, only to be swiftly ditched shortly thereafter. Good attack lines.

The question is, of course, with eight months to a general election, whether we are perceived as offering a credible, viable alternative. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

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