I’m not involved in the Labour party and don’t have any special insight into it, but for a party which has perhaps the smoothest transition ever between leaders about to come off, it really does seem to be remarkably unsettled. Every day there seems to be rumours about how unhappy everyone is. And maybe it’s just because I’m an outsider, but the deputy leadership campaign going on, although proceeding quite happily as a contest in itself, seems to be taking place in remarkable isolation from the discussion about the future of the party. But maybe that’s just because I’m not privy to the Labour party debates on it - most of my contact is from a few Labour friends plugging their favoured candidate on Facebook, around Facebook, here, or elsewhere (for example here).
For what it’s worth I’ve long said that I think the Labour party, in everything except the short term, is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire in going from Blair to Brown. Yes Blair certainly has his failings (don’t get me started on his so-called policy on Europe, for example), and obviously has Iraq hanging round his neck, but I think it will take the Labour party about ten seconds after he goes to start kicking themselves that they didn’t realise how good he was while they had him. It is very far from historically inevitable that Labour is credible and electable and acceptable to middle England - something a lot of post-1997 Labour people seem to have forgotten.
I can never see Brown being popular - he certainly doesn’t have the Richard & Judy charm of Blair - OK, it’s easy to deride Blair for that, but it was that more than anything else which convinced Britain that Labour was electable again. And by all accounts Brown’s style of management and working makes Blair’s look positively open and collegiate. I find it extremely difficult to see the public ever warming to him.
Brown is (quite rightly, from his point of view) very keen to show that his government is new and fresh and different from the Blair government of 1997-2007. He’s making a big fuss of his first 100 days and no doubt they will be full of whizzes and bangs. I imagine that if the public are polled, say, three months after he becomes PM then they will say lots of things have changed and he is doing a good job.
But the idea that it will be a different government is of course in reality nonsense. Policy on all the issues that Brown cares about over the last ten years has been dictated by Brown - in fact to a quite staggering degree, across every government department with the exception only really of defence and foreign affairs (and perhaps to some extent education). He might move from No 11 to No 10 but the person driving policy in all these areas will remain the same over the next few years as it has been over the last ten. And this will in the end be evident. My guess is that the same public, if asked after, say, a year of a Brown premiership if things are different to how they were under Blair, they will be clear that they aren’t. And that will of course be right.
Forget policy details, forget day-to-day rows over IT project overspends, forget even the state of the economy: the public have an innate sense that after a few years it’s time for a change and time to give the other lot a go. The only thing a government can vary about that is how long it takes them to reach that point. Brown knows that and that’s why he wants people to think his government is a new and different one - but I can’t see him succeeding.