Brown’s ticking time bombs

As a lifelong Labour Party member, it pains me to acknowledge this, but I’ve never known Labour to be in such dire straits. Sadly the worst is yet to come because of a succession of ticking time bombs.
On Thursday, parts of the UK will have local elections and the whole of the UK will have European elections. We will have the local results straightaway. However, most of the other 26 countries in the European Union will not vote for the European Parliament until Sunday, so we won’t count our European votes until all nations have voted and consequently we won’t know our European results until Monday.
What we do know though is that the results will be terrible for Labour. Last year, Labour won only 24% of the vote in the local elections; in 2004, Labour won a mere 22.6% of the vote in the European elections. This year, anything over 20% will look decent; below 20% will be a disaster.
As well as these large-scale elections, Labour has to face a by-election in the seat currently held by the Speaker of the Commons Michael Martin: Glasgow North-East. Ordinarily this would be a Labour stronghold; these days, Labour will struggle to keep the Scottish Nationalists at bay.
Additionally it is not out of the question that some MPs caught up in the expenses scandal may choose to step down now causing further by-elections. It is in their financial interests to stay on until the General Election, but some may find the pressure or the embarrassment too much.
Now all these ticking bombs are well-known and well-understood and there is very little that Gordon Brown can do to avoid them. But there’s a less visible ticking bomb that Brown (or his successor) could defuse. It’s called the Postal Services Bill. In the Government’s language, this proposes to create a strategic partnership between Royal Mail and a suitable private sector partner. In the language of the Bill’s opponents, it will bring about the part privatisation of the mails business just when the Government has taken most of the banks into public ownership.
The Postal Services Bill has already completed all its stages in the House of Lords and had its First Reading (a technical measure) in the House of Commons. It will have its Second Reading in the Commons – which involves a vote on the principles – very shortly after the local and European elections, possibly as soon as the following Tuesday.
Many Labour MPs are deeply unhappy about the part privatisation section of the Bill – the rest is largely uncontentious – and will be tempted to vote against it. And why shouldn’t they, if they think that it will get through anyway on Conservative votes and if they think that they are unpopular enough already with their local party and local electorate?
So what’s going to happen? Many scenarios are under discussion in the fevered atmosphere of Westminster, but let me outline two – one quite likely, one less likely but more attractive.
A quite likely option is that, in the aftermath of a Labour wipe-out at the polls this coming week, Gordon Brown as Prime Minister will seek to give the Government a fresh look by reshuffling his Cabinet, dropping some members and bringing in some new talent.This could happen as soon as Friday. In this scenario, he might well change the leadership of the Business Department, moving Lord Mandelson (who doesn’t face any election) and putting in someone more sensitive to Labour backbench opinion on the Postal Services Bill.
A less likely – but not impossible – option is that the election results this week are so utterly awful for Labour that Brown comes under irresistible pressure to step down either immediately or over the summer, so that a more popular Prime Minister can lead Labour into the coming General Election in which the party might still lose but retain a more creditable number of seats. If this scenario came to pass, the obvious candidate for the Labour leadership would be the current Health Minister Alan Johnson. Now Johnson is a former General Secretary of the postal workers’ union (where he was my boss) and a one-time postal minister and you can be sure that he would find a quick way to get the Government off the privatisation hook.
I have great respect for Gordon Brown who is an honourable man, but his premiership has not worked for the country or the party. Right now Alan Johnson would be better for both.


  • Chris

    Things are difficult I agree but we should take the fight to the Tories and not be made to feel low by the Tory media. Wallowing does nothing.

  • Sharon

    Johnson? Really? You think? Perhaps as an NHS worker I have a different perception of him. I am pretty convinced I don’t want him as Prime Minister.
    I don’t know what the answer is. I can see why Cameron is looking so appealing to people. Darling will I suspect be gone in a reshuffle. Hopefully Mr Brown will get rid of Ann Keen (our local MP who despite living 10 miles from the centre of London still claims for a second home, as does her husband who is also an MP). I think so little of her that I would think twice before voting for her, even though I have never voted anything but Labour.
    I am most frightened that in our area the BNP will gain massive ground. I am convinced they will and they are gaining ground from the “ordinary” person who doesn’t actually read their policies in depth – just votes on the “Jobs for British People” kind of statement.
    So what is the answer? I will be deliberating in the voting booth on Thursday, that’s for sure.

  • boca raton plumber

    Was not elected as the leader of the party, is that not correct? Inherited the role — admittedly in part because there was no challenge when Blair retired?


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>