History > 2009 > UK > Politics (I)
Labour must not bow out,
but fight to win
Prime minister tells delegates at Labour conference
the only consistent thing about the Conservatives
is that they are consistently
Tuesday 29 September 2009
Deborah Summers, politics editor
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk at 17.11 BST on Tuesday 29
It was last updated at 17.26 BST
on Tuesday 29 September 2009.
Gordon Brown today vowed to fight and win the next general
election as he unveiled a blueprint for the Labour manifesto designed to win
back anxious middle Britain voters.
In a determined 59-minute speech to the party's autumn conference in Brighton,
the prime minister said the Conservatives had faced the "economic call of the
century" and had called it wrong.
And he urged Labour activists to "fight, not bow out, fight to win".
With a general election less than nine months away, Brown outlined the party's
priorities on issues such as antisocial behaviour, jobs, healthcare, childcare,
the economy, and parliamentary reform.
In a glimpse at the choices Labour will seek to offer voters, Brown pledged to:
• Provide 250,000 free childcare places for two-year-olds.
• Delay the introduction of compulsory ID cards for British citizens.
• Provide a network of supervised homes for 16- and 17-year-old parents.
• Create up to 10,000 green job placements.
• Protect the schools budget.
• Hold a referendum on the alternative vote electoral system after the election.
• Remove hereditary peers in the House of Lords "once and for all", in the next
• Give constituents the right to remove corrupt MPs.
• Increase the role of post offices in providing financial services.
"It was only a year ago that the world was looking over a precipice and Britain
was in danger," Brown said.
"I knew that unless I acted decisively and immediately, the recession could
descend into a great depression with millions of people's jobs and homes and
savings at risk … And times of great challenge mean choices of great
"Only one party with pretensions to government made the wrong choice: the
Conservative party of Britain," Brown told delegates.
"They made the wrong choice on Northern Rock, the wrong choice on jobs and
spending, the wrong choice on mortgage support, the wrong choice on working with
Gordon and Sarah Brown before the PM's speech today. Photograph: Stefan
"The only thing about their policy that is consistent is that they are
consistently wrong. The opposition might think the test of a party is the
quality of its marketing but I say the test for a government is the quality of
"The Conservative party were faced with the economic call of the century and
they called it wrong. And I say a party that makes the wrong choices on the most
critical decisions it would have faced in government, should not be given the
chance to be in government."
For the second year running, Sarah Brown gave a heartfelt introduction to her
"hero" husband on the conference stage.
"I know a lot about my husband; we've been married for nine years now. We've had
some great times and we will be together for all times," she said.
"Because we've been together for so long, I know he's not a saint – he's messy,
he's noisy – but I know he goes to bed every night and he gets up every morning
thinking about the things that matter."
Sarah Brown said she had always been struck by how someone so intense would make
time for family, friends and everyone who knows him.
"That's why I love him as much as I do. That's what makes him the man for
Admitting her husband had a "tough job", she said she wouldn't want it for the
world, but added: "Every day I'm glad he's the one up there doing the job."
In his speech, the prime minister vowed to help create new opportunities for
young people. He announced a new partnership with the Federation of Small
Businesses to encourage ambition and enterprise and pledged a joint effort with
the Eden Project, the environmental exhibition centre in Cornwall, and May Day
Network, the business anti-climate change group, to "create the biggest group of
green work placements we have ever done – up to 10,000 green jobs placements".
Conceding once again that public spending would have to be reined in, Brown said
the government would raise tax "at the very top, cut costs … and make savings
where we know we can" to protect frontline services.
Brown pledged more tough action on antisocial behaviour with local authorities
given the power to ban 24-hour drinking.
On immigration, the prime minister said Britain's point-based system would be
tightened to welcome only those who had the skills the country needed.
Brown also reiterated his pledge not to introduce compulsory ID cards for
British citizens in the next parliament.
Delegates cheered as he praised the work of the British armed forces, claiming
they "truly are the finest in the world" and he promised to ensure they would
always have all the equipment they needed.
Britain would work with Barack Obama to ensure peace and stability in
Afghanistan and the Middle East, he said.
Brown heaped praise on the work of the National Health Service and said Labour's
general election manifesto would promise social care for all to ensure dignity
and support in old age.
On MPs' expenses, the prime minister admitted that, although the vast majority
of Labour MPs were in parliament to serve the public, "there are some who let
our country down".
"Just as I have said that the market needs morals I also say that politics needs
morals too," he said.
"So where there is proven financial corruption by an MP and in cases where
wrongdoing has been demonstrated but parliament fails to act we will give
constituents the right to recall their member of parliament."
In a move that was immediately welcomed by business groups and trade unions,
which have been campaigning for a People's Bank to help secure the future of the
UK's 12,000 post offices, Brown announced a bigger role for post offices in
providing financial services.
In an attempt to rally Labour activists in what will be his last conference
speech before the next general election – which must be held before 3 June next
year – Brown warned that a Conservative government would put the country's
prosperity at risk.
"It's the difference between Conservatives who embrace pessimism and austerity
and progressives like Labour who embrace prosperity and hope," he said.
"Since 1998, Labour has given this country back its future. And we are not done
"We love this country and we have shown over the years that if you aim high you
can lift not just yourself but your country. There is nothing in life which is
inevitable – it's about change you can choose."
Union leaders warmly welcomed the speech, saying he had drawn some "clear red
lines" between Labour and the Conservatives.
Tony Woodley, the joint leader of Unite, said: "The prime minister spoke of the
values that are true to Labour."
Dave Prentis, the leader of Unison, said: "This was fighting talk – tough talk
with real substance. We particularly welcomed the announcement on care for the
elderly and making the bankers pay back the money."
But David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce,
warned: "As we emerge from the worst recession since the second world war,
businesses must be given the freedom to create much-needed wealth and jobs.
Business must not be caught up in the rush to regulate the excesses of the
Gordon Brown: Labour must not bow out, but
fight to win, G, 29.9.2009,
Gordon Brown in danger after Labour's share of vote
collapses to historic low of 16 per cent in disastrous European elections
Monday, 8 June 2009
By Andrew Grice and Nigel Morris
The pressure on Gordon Brown to stand down intensified last
night as the Labour vote went into meltdown in the European elections.
Labour won the lowest share of the vote in a nationwide
election in its history, as support in its traditional heartlands collapsed
following the scandal over MPs' expenses. In Yorkshire and the Humber, it
suffered the humiliation of losing a seat to the far-right British National
Party, which won its first seat in a nationwide election.
In Wales, Labour failed to top the poll for the first time since 1918; the
Tories came first and Ukip gained a seat from Labour. In the North East,
Labour's share of the vote dropped from 34 to 25 per cent. In Scotland, Labour
was pushed into second place by the Scottish National Party.
The Labour vote appeared to free fall in the South East and
South West, where in some areas the party plummeted to fifth. In London,
Labour's vote dropped by four percentage points.
Labour officials admitted the party could finish third nationwide behind Ukip
and the Tories. Labour was on course to win about 16 per cent of the vote, the
lowest since it began fighting elections as an independent party in 1918.
A BBC projection early today forecast that the Tories would win 27 per cent of
votes, Ukip 17 per cent, Labour 16 per cent, the Liberal Democrats 14 per cent,
the Greens 9 per cent and the BNP 6 per cent. Labour's crushing defeat could
prove a tipping point for many Labour MPs as they gather in Westminster today to
decide Mr Brown's fate.
Many will calculate that they would lose their seats if last night's results
were repeated at the general election. They left the Prime Minister on a knife
edge as he prepares for a showdown at a critical meeting of the Parliamentary
Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, admitted the results were "very dismal"
but insisted they were not Mr Brown's fault. "Our supporters are absolutely
furious with us about expenses," she said. "They expect us to have higher
standards than the Tories."
Nick Brown, the Government's chief whip, challenged rebel MPs to put up or shut
up: "The time has come for them to nominate their candidate, see if they've got
sufficient nominations and take the issue to a party conference. If they can't
do that, they should get behind the leadership that the overwhelming majority of
party members support."
Mr Brown is preparing key concessions to Labour MPs in an attempt to hang on to
his job. The Independent has learnt that controversial plans to part-privatise
the Royal Mail may be shelved on commercial grounds.
Although the Government would remain committed to selling a 30 per cent stake,
it may delay the move to maximise the likely return for the taxpayer. Ministers
believe more bidders would emerge when the recession is over. So far, only one
firm offer has been tabled, by the private equity group CVC.
The delay would be welcomed by many Labour MPs, 149 of whom have signed a
Commons motion opposing the sell-off. And within days, Mr Brown will announce a
formal inquiry into the Iraq war and its aftermath, a move that would be
welcomed by Labour critics of the 2003 invasion.
He has asked Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, to advise him on the
scope and timing of an investigation and the possible membership of the inquiry
team. Aides said the Prime Minister had always favoured the move but wanted to
wait until the bulk of British troops had withdrawn from Iraq.
Despite the planned concessions, rebel Labour MPs warned they would step up
their campaign to unseat Mr Brown. The Prime Minister will try to rally support
at the make-or-break meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) tonight.
Although the new-look Cabinet remained firm in its support of Mr Brown
yesterday, his critics hope a backbench rebellion – "the peasants' revolt" –
could persuade senior ministers he must go. "If 100 MPs say it's all over, he
will have lost the confidence of the PLP," one former Cabinet minister said last
But Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary and unofficial deputy prime minister,
played down the impact of the hammering for Labour. He told the plotters they
could not blame the results on Mr Brown, saying the attacks on his leadership
and the MPs' expenses affair were responsible. He told The Independent: "People
cannot spend days destabilising the Government and criticising the Prime
Minister and then demand good results."
A Labour spokeswoman insisted the party's performance could not be translated
into a general election result: "People are angry about expenses and as the
party of government we have borne the brunt of that."
Yesterday Mr Brown admitted he faced "testing times" but said Labour could not
turn in on itself and away from the serious challenges facing the nation. He was
given a show of loyalty by Labour activists in East London after warning that
the public would not understand if the Government gave up at a time when it
faced the problems of tackling the recession and cleaning up Parliament. "What
would they think of us if ever we walked away from them at a time of need? We
are sticking with them," he said. "We have a purpose, we have a mission, we have
a task ahead. We are going to get on with that task of building a better
Close allies believe the Prime Minister can see off his critics because of the
Cabinet-level support and a recognition among backbenchers that a change of
leader would need to be followed by an early general election in which many of
them would lose their seats.
But Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Lord Chancellor and a close friend of
Tony Blair called for an "urgent debate" on Mr Brown's leadership, telling the
BBC: "We need unity above all. Can we get unity under the current leadership? I
am not sure we can and we need to debate it urgently and I think probably it
will need a change in leader."
His intervention fuelled claims by left-wingers that Blairites were plotting
against Mr Brown.
Dissident Labour MPs promised to press ahead with their plans to publish a
round-robin letter demanding his departure after the PLP meeting.
Mr Brown and Labour whips aimed a telephone campaign at wavering backbenchers
over the weekend, offering a range of threats and inducements.
Labour milestone: Worst result ever
As it slumped to its worst performance since the modern party was formed in
1918, last night Labour failed to top the poll in Wales for the first time after
an unbroken 91 years of dominance. Factions of the Liberal Party representing
the interests of the working classes broke away in 1893 to form the Independent
Labour Party, which held together an association of socialist MPs. The
parliamentary group took the Labour Party name in 1906, electing Kier Hardie as
leader. It adopted individual membership 12 years later.
Brickbats and bouquets: Voices from the party
*Nick Raynsford, former minister: "We have seen over the last week a whole
series of events all indicating the profound unhappiness of very many MPs ... If
we don't take the right decision now that mood of unhappiness will continue. We
will have a long lingering downward decline towards ... almost inevitable
electoral defeat next year. That would be disastrous."
*First Secretary Lord Mandelson:
"Stop taking shots at the Prime Minister ...
If we get the policy agenda right, and if it's sufficiently bold and decisive,
then the public will take a different look at us."
*Alan Johnson, the new Home Secretary:
"I think Gordon Brown is the best man for the job. You are never going to get a
politician that is absolutely perfect in every respect, Tony Blair wasn't, none
of his predecessors have been."
*Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell: "Gordon Brown loves the Labour Party. He
is Labour through and through. The team has got to rally round Gordon and build
the strength that the evidence of a team and a government working together can
Labour in crisis: European disaster
Monday 8 June 2009
Real landslides often confound the metaphor. Instead of a single, sudden,
overwhelming collapse, there can be hours, days and even weeks punctuated by
small fusillades of rock, long eerie silences and then bigger falls. In calm
moments a precarious stability seems to have been reached. Then it all starts
again. That is how it is for the Labour party today. Gordon Brown seems to have
stabilised his government, but the ground it stands on is shaky and the slide
may resume at any moment. Last night's bad European results showed that. So did
the small volleys of dissent that hit him during the weekend, among them Lord
Falconer's call for unity under a new leader, and Lord Mandelson's intriguing
emails of 18 months ago, leaked to a Sunday paper.
There are peers all over the place in this battle - Lord Kinnock yesterday
expressed himself delighted at Lady Kinnock's appointment as Europe minister -
but too few MPs and too little regard for what voters want. Tonight's meeting of
the parliamentary party may encourage new voices, but the sense is that Labour
is ducking democracy, just at the moment it should be bringing it alive.
The public mood is clearly for a general election, not because there is great
enthusiasm for the opposition (the European results and strength of minor
parties shows there is not) but because people think this parliament has no
legitimacy. This sense can only grow in the face of a government that
increasingly resembles an oligarchy, a plaything of party grandees. The fact
that Mr Brown has had to resort to barons and baronesses to stagger on is
So whatever is decided about the leadership in the next few days, Labour will be
testing the patience of the electorate if it postpones a national vote until
next May. In theory the party can avoid an election, unless parliament passes a
vote of no confidence. But stretching the democratic elastic would risk turning
the Norwich North byelection, which the Tories would win on a swing a third the
size of the one they achieved in Crewe and Nantwich, into a mini-referendum on
his right to rule.
Labour is in danger of keeping its leader for the most selfish of reasons - not
because it believes in him but to avoid the risk of a confrontation with the
electorate. In the last few days, many in the party who want change have held
back from saying so in public because they fear an early election. But they
ought to think, too, of the consequences of denying the public a vote.
The question facing Labour MPs at the moment should not be whether they want to
go to the country this year or next - but whether they can imagine fighting an
election with Mr Brown as their leader. Are they convinced by his cabinet and
his vision, such as it is? Do they believe that the rising economic confidence
now being detected in polls will lift party support, after the prime minister
showed so publicly he lacked confidence in his chancellor? If the answer to
these questions is no, and Mr Brown stays, then people will draw the obvious
conclusion - Labour is on the run from the electorate. It will not be credible
to limp on for another year. Holding on to power for the sake of it will
encourage people to despise Labour and add cowardice to whatever charge sheet
they have already compiled.
This paper argued last week that a different leader would be best placed to
change perceptions of the party and put the opposition under pressure. The
Tories' clean sweep of county councils hid a diminished share of the vote. A
hung parliament is still possible in an October election, if Labour makes the
case for change under someone else - accelerating parliamentary reform, backing
down on the Royal Mail, ID cards and Trident, acting on youth unemployment and
housing. If Mr Brown stays on, he will hope to dodge the falling rocks and stop
the slide. But nothing is solid anymore.
Labour in crisis:
European disaster, G, 8.6.2009,
Labour in crisis: Black Friday
Saturday 6 June 2009
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 BST on Saturday 6
It appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 6 June 2009 on p32 of the Editorials &
It was last updated at 00.29 BST on Saturday 6 June 2009.
Has there ever been a more depressing day for progressive politics - a Black
Friday that left Labour at war with itself? Events took on an terrible kinetic
energy as the self-destruction gathered pace. This must be how civil wars feel
when they start, neighbours and families turning on each other as the hatred
spreads. It was horrible, disastrous and perhaps unstoppable. The public must
have been appalled; the Conservatives delighted. Gordon Brown showed the
extraordinary resilience that may yet save his job - but that may not be enough
to prevent calamity for Labour when the election comes.
At one moment Mr Brown looked finished; then by mid-afternoon he seemed to have
foiled the plotters. News of Geoff Hoon's departure followed on from John
Hutton's gentlemanly statement. Ian Gibson called a byelection. Then Caroline
Flint quit, amid angry words. Careers ended almost without notice, among them
Margaret Beckett, the longest-serving Labour minister of all time. Out in the
real world councils collapsed into Conservative hands; an eccentric rightwing
nationalist was elected Doncaster's mayor. But nothing seemed to distract from
Labour's convulsions. By the end of the day, as at the beginning, nothing was
settled, only that somehow the situation must be resolved very soon, either way.
The starting point is that Mr Brown managed to put a cabinet together -
blokeish, short on stars, partly built from the spares bucket, but still a
cabinet. And for him, that might be enough. Its makeup ought to shame
constitutional radicals - packed with peers, including Lord Mandelson, now
officially third in rank, and decorated with the Ruritanian title of first
secretary of state. Even that was less strange than the desperate appointment of
Alan Sugar as an enterprise tsar in the Lords. What this has to do with
democracy Mr Brown did not trouble himself to explain. The surviving members of
this cabinet are now locked together like hostages, although whether Mr Brown is
the ringleader or the victim is disputable. One sudden move now by Alistair
Darling, Alan Johnson, Peter Mandelson or David Miliband, and Mr Brown will be
finished. But they are pinned down by him in return.
The prime minister put on a steely performance at his press conference - a show
that will give his party pause to think before destabilising him further. It was
tougher and more considered than anything managed by his critics, who risk being
labelled self-indulgent careerists, attempting to bring down a leader without a
candidate, or a manifesto of their own. Mr Brown left no doubt that he intends
to stay in office, and believes he deserves to stay. But his claim to policy
substance seemed rooted in the caricature of the man mocked as the nation's
Supreme Leader in Private Eye. There will be a weekly National Democratic
Renewal Council, a Domestic Policy Council and an enhanced National Economic
Council, as if the creation of yet more machines of government can substitute
for the absence of ideas for them to discuss. The recently created Innovation,
University and Skills department was smashed up and its relics given to Lord
Mandelson, with the degrading implication that education is merely a tool of
This weekend the destabilising forces lie outside the top ranks of the party.
Labour supporters and MPs are furious with the plotters (though many may agree
with their assessment of Labour's leader). If backbench support begins to
crumble ahead of the parliamentary party meeting on Monday, he will find it very
hard to stay. But the core of the Labour party may worry about showing its
support for plotters who have shown themselves to be disorganised, apparently
ideologically isolated on the right and whose actions will be used by Mr Brown
to explain Labour's defeat. The European results may tip things against him.
Everything is fragile. But he hangs on, for now.
Labour in crisis: Black
Friday, G, 6.6.2009,
Sweeping losses as Labour suffers voters' brutal verdict
Friday 5 June 2009 22.00 BST
Hélène Mulholland and Martin Wainwright
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 22.00 BST on Friday 5 June
It appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 6 June 2009 on p6 of the Top stories
It was last updated at 01.23 BST on Saturday 6 June 2009.
Voters delivered a brutal verdict to Labour yesterday, as the party lost
control of all its remaining English county councils in Thursday's voting.
Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire fell out of Labour's hands for
the first time in 28 years, and Lancashire for the first time since 1989 – all
to the Tories.
With 32 of the 34 local authority results declared, the Conservatives had
control of 28 councils, and had won an additional 230 seats and nine more
councils, including Devon and Somerset from the Liberal Democrats, and the
previously hung Wiltshire and Warwickshire.
The Tories also gained overall control of a new unitary authority, Central
Bedfordshire, where Labour failed to win a single seat, and grabbed the
mayoralty in North Tyneside back from Labour.
Labour saw sweeping losses across the 27 shire councils and seven unitary
authorities, losing a net of 268 council seats.
The Liberal Democrats gained Bristol. Gordon Brown was forced to admit Labour
had plunged to "a painful defeat" in the local elections amid what he called
"testing times", brought about by the expenses scandal and the internal
troubles afflicting the party.
"Too many good people doing so much good for their communities and their
constituencies have lost through no fault of their own," he said.
On a whistle-stop visit to Lancashire, David Cameron, the Tory leader, described
the government as "chaotic", lurching from one "shambles" to another.
"We are winning in the south-west, in Devon and Somerset. We are winning in the
Midlands, in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. We are winning in the north, here in
Lancashire. That's not a protest vote, it's a vote for a strong, positive,
united alternative to a failing government," he said.
Staffordshire was the first of Labour's four counties to go, with the
Conservatives racing past the winning mark of 32 seats while Labour had still to
retain more than two.
Lancashire followed at 4pm – a prize scalp for David Cameron. The outcome for
Labour was catastrophic, with the council leader, Hazel Harding, and the
majority of her ruling cabinet losing their seats.
Then it was the turn of Derbyshire, another Labour stronghold for 28 years and
the shire which on paper the party looked best-placed to hold. The Conservatives
overturned a 14-37 deficit ,with 10 Liberal Democrats, to take the 33 seats
needed for power.
Nottinghamshire was the last to fall, with Labour losing 22 of its 35 seats.
Rejected Labour council candidates made no attempt to hide their
disillusionment with their national colleagues, saying that voters had only
wanted to talk about expenses and party splits on the doorstep. In Burnley,
where four council cabinet members tumbled to the Liberal Democrats and the BNP
picked up its first county council seat, one of three gained nationally, their
anger was backed by the local Labour MP Kitty Ussher.
Speaking at the count, she said: "We have lost some really good county
councillors who have worked very hard to serve their community.
"Hazel Blears wore a brooch saying, 'Rocking the boat'. But if you are in choppy
waters you don't change the captain."
Don Yates, a former county councillor, said: "It was expenses on the doorstep,
time and again. Something seems to happen to some of our people when they go
down to London.
"Now we have to start again. I've been on the council for all of our 28 years
but I'm ready to start the process of rebuilding."
Lancashire's new Conservative leader Geoff Driver, a former chief executive of
Preston council, was cheered when a victory in the Wyreside ward took his party
to the 43 seats needed for a working majority.
He said: "Labour have been in power here for too long. Lancashire needs a change
and we will bring one. I'd be foolish to say that the national situation didn't
have an impact, but we feel we put together a better local package for the
people of Lancashire, and they chose it."
Labour was further troubled by local splits, including a row over a planned
academy school in Preston, which saw the council education chair deposed and
then fought and beaten in the poll by the local party's constituency chair.
In Lincolnshire, the Conservatives retained overall control while Labour was
nearly wiped off the county council's electoral map. The Tories won 60 seats and
Labour came third in the mayoral election in Hartlepool, which saw the
re-election of a former football mascot. Stuart Drummond, who first stood as
H'Angus the Monkey, the former Hartlepool United mascot, as a joke, won his
third term as mayor with a majority of more than 800 votes. Labour also came in
third in the Doncaster mayoral contest, which was won by Peter Davies of the
English Democrats. In the St Ives ward of Cambridgeshire county council, Labour
came sixth behind two Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats and Lord Toby Jug of
the Official Monster Raving Loony party.
Sweeping losses as Labour suffers
voters' brutal verdict, G, 5.6.2009,