I met Dave Keating, author of the excellent Gulf Stream Blues blog, for a coffee yesterday and we started to chat about UK politics. What, he asked me, were my thoughts about Gordon Brown’s prospects? It seems that as the government’s opinion poll ratings have taken hit after hit so the stories have once again started to emerge about viable alternatives to Gordon Brown. Paul Linford and Mike Smithson are commenting on Alan Johnson, Mike also has thoughts about Ed Balls, while Sunny Hundal weighs in with the suggestion of Ed Miliband. The Gulf Stream seems to be blowing scant optimism from the Obama administration to UK shores.
Whenever my thoughts turn to Labour’s leadership enter my head I recall a frank conversation with Swedish Social Democrat MEP Åsa Westlund at the election party when Göran Persson had been kicked out of office in September 2006. Persson, a gruff bullying leader akin to Gordon Brown, had failed to renew his party while in power and Fredrik Reinfeldt came to power not because his börgerliga allians was especially good, but because he was not Persson. So, what should Labour in the UK learn I asked Åsa? “You need something new. Someone that is not so tied to the previous leadership,” was her reply.
I think she was right, and for that reason I would reject the prospects of Alan Johnson and Ed Balls from the off. Johnson has been a nondescript cabinet minister for years and years. OK, he was a postman so has a handy background for a Labour minister. But he completely incapable of inspiring people, and I’m not even sure if you would describe him as a leader. Balls has been Brown’s closest ally for years and lacks the personal and media skills to be effective. Same for anyone else who has been around since 1997; how can people with more than a decade of government behind them in any way come across as dynamic, daring or interesting? This is one of the essential points Jack Thurston makes regarding Labour and the internet – many of Labour’s top people have been around too long.
So where does that leave us? The only prospects as far as I am concerned are the Miliband brothers; Burnham and Purnell have not demonstrated any ability to communicate, nor leadership ability. Both Milibands are communicative, determined, reasonably interesting, and – above all – have a drive and degree of optimism that is plainly lacking from the other members of the Cabinet.
Which then leads on to David Cameron… Compare his front bench team to the line-up of Blair, Brown, Cook, Mandelson prior to the 1997 election and Cameron’s team looks really ropey in comparison. Labour is in danger of losing the next election if it does not get its own house in order; it for sure will not be due to good quality of the Conservative front bench.