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History > 2009 > UK > Politics (I)




Gordon Brown:

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 wrong


Tuesday 29 September 2009
17.11 BST
Deborah Summers, politics editor
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk at 17.11 BST on Tuesday 29 September 2009.
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 parliament.

• 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 consequence.

"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 Europe.

Gordon and Sarah Brown before the PM's speech today. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
"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 its judgment.

"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 Britain too."

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 yet.

"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 banks."

    Gordon Brown: Labour must not bow out, but fight to win, G, 29.9.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/sep/29/gordon-brown-labour-conference-speech







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
The Independent
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 Labour Party.

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 night.

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 Britain."

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 do."

    Meltdown, I, 8.6.2009, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/meltdown-1699447.html







Labour in crisis: European disaster


Monday 8 June 2009
The Guardian


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 telling.

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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/08/european-elections-labour-leadership







Labour in crisis: Black Friday


Saturday 6 June 2009
The Guardian
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 BST on Saturday 6 June 2009.
It appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 6 June 2009 on p32 of the Editorials & reply section.
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 production.

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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/06/black-friday-labour-gordon-brown






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 2009.
It appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 6 June 2009 on p6 of the Top stories section.
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 four.

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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jun/05/local-election-results-labour-defeat