July 4, 2006


Twitchy Labour MPs look to ditch Brown along with Blair (Rachel Sylvester, 04/07/2006, Daily Telegraph)

It is perhaps inevitable that ambitious politicians will detach themselves from a leader who has announced he is going to stand down. What is more surprising, however, is that there is a parallel process of disengagement going on in the Brown camp.

Left-wingers who had been courted so assiduously by the Chancellor in the past were horrified by his call (made in characteristically cautious code) for Britain's nuclear deterrent to be replaced.

Clare Short, long one of Mr Brown's loudest cheerleaders, spoke for several MPs when she said that, after his pronouncement on Trident, Gordon could no longer be her man. Meanwhile, Labour's many civil libertarians will be dismayed by the Chancellor's support this week for proposals to increase the amount of time terrorism suspects can be held without trial from 28 to 90 days.

Those ministers who have swung both ways between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor look forward to a Brown premiership with little enthusiasm. "We'll all support Gordon in public, of course, but behind the scenes there'll be quite a lot of flirting with Alan Johnson if he stands," one said. Even Mr Brown's closest allies in the Commons are becoming frustrated with their preferred leader.

"Changing people who are set in their ways is very difficult," according to one weary MP.

An editorial by Neal Lawson, head of the Left-wing pressure group Compass, in this month's issue of the journal Renewal reveals a growing irritation with the Chancellor among those who have always championed his cause. "Brown is saying less and less about anything that really matters," it says. "We have every sympathy with the delicate position [he] is in, but eventually all prospective leaders have to do just that - lead."

No doubt the Chancellor will be delighted to be alienating the Left-wingers who have plotted for so long on his behalf. His over-riding concern now is to court Middle England - with whom, as he told the Mail on Sunday over beer and football, he goes to bed every night in the form of his Home Counties-born wife Sarah. But Middle England, and its paymasters in the City, remain suspicious of Mr Brown.

This is not just because of his father-on-the-dancefloor attempt to look cool by discussing his choice of underwear and iPod collection. The Chancellor has, throughout the Blair years, deliberately wooed the Left by setting himself up as the "true Labour" opponent to the "new Labour" Prime Minister. He spoke of the "limits to the market" in the public services.

He let it be known that he opposed university top-up fees and foundation hospitals, raising the rhetoric as his anger with Mr Blair increased. Although he supported the war in Iraq, he came as close as he could to questioning the way in which it was being handled by calling for MPs to have a vote over all future conflicts.

In fact, Mr Brown is almost certainly not dramatically to the Left of Mr Blair, but he is paying the price of positioning himself on that wing. The danger for the Chancellor now is that he will alienate his power base without persuading Middle England that he is one of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 4, 2006 12:52 PM
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