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How wrong can one be?

One the eve of the Labour Party conference in Manchester, North West MP Graham Stringer looks at Gordon Brown, a leader in big trouble

Written by . Published on September 19th 2008.

How wrong can one be?

LAST Friday, when asked by journalists, I predicted that the Labour Party conference would be dull and the run up to it would be quiet.

It's the natural instinct of party members to be loyal, at least in public, when the leader is in trouble. I hadn’t taken into account the sheer incompetence of the dismal and faceless apparatchiks who Gordon bROWN employs to do his bidding in Number 10.

A few of us had written to Ray Collins, THE Labour Party’s general secretary, to ask why he hadn’t sent out the invitations to Labour MPs to nominate for leader of the party. An obscure rule in the Labour Party constitution obliges that these forms are sent out immediately before the annual conference.

This was meant as a shot across the bows of the leadership, to remind them that the issue of Gordon’s leadership had not gone away. This correspondence was private. Gordon’s oppos, however, decided that the press should be told that because only three or four people had written there was no threat to Gordon. This, of course, had the opposite effect. Siobhain McDonagh, a Government whip, was sacked. A media frenzy started. Gordon Brown’s position looked more tenuous as sackings and resignations followed. This was a crisis made and minted in 10 Downing Street.

This episode has exposed the modus operandi of the clique around Gordon and how counterproductive it is. They have operated like this for years. Recently Bury South MP Ivan Lewis suffered from it when Gordon’s friends placed nasty and exaggerated articles in the News of the World and Mail on Sunday. His real crime was to suggest that people earning more than £250,000 should be taxed and this new policy should be part of a programme of reconnecting with the electorate. Nobody is immune from the treatment: the Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer have also been targets. John Prescott is right when he says split parties don’t win elections, but he should be telling Gordon that the actions of his associates are closer to spite-filled student union politics parodied in The Life of Brian, rather than the "big tent politics" he claims to espouse.

But "who are the splitters?" isn’t the question before the conference in Manchester next week. It is: Can the

leadership persuade the electorate that we are the party to deal with current international financial crisis?

The business-as-usual, we-know-what-we-are-doing messages have gone down like a lead balloons with the electorate; 28 points behind in the opinion polls and three awful by-election results are the public's response. The Government has not been forgiven for the 10p tax fiasco and insulation grants are an almost risible response to the financial situation faced by families.

Now is the time for Cabinet members
to gird their loins, prove they have not been filleted and declare that there must be a selection
of a new leader

The Cabinet’s reaction has been strange. When not fading from view, they have acknowledged that there is a serious case to be made against Gordon. They also seem to have put him on probation (how a Prime Minister can be put on probation and remain in office, I don’t know.)

They’re caught between their collective responsibility to the Government, and knowing that probably a majority of Labour MPs want a leadership challenge. Incidentally, trying to stop this fact being exposed was why Ray Collins didn’t send out nomination forms.

While individually excellent, collectively the Cabinet lacks experience. Many members of it have very recently been civil servants who took instructions from Gordon and other ministers. This is not an ideal preparation for telling the man who was previously their boss that they support a challenge to him. Now is the time for Cabinet members to gird their loins, prove they have not been filleted and declare that there must be a selection of a new leader.

It would be easy for them to choose the soft option of a dull conference but, sooner or later, the Cabinet will have to act.

This article originally appeared on Manchester Confidential where Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley, writes a fortnightly column.

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MattSeptember 19th 2008.

And, because, this appears to be the thing to say today - an unexpectedly fantastic article from Mr Stringer. Many of us long suffering members of the Labour Party are heartily sick of the shenanigans outlined above and the irredeemably hopeless performance we are witnessing like a slow motion car crash in front of our very eyes. Good on Stringer - and local Labour MPs like Frank Field and George Howarth and Peter Kilfoyle for declaring 'enough is enough'. Something has got to give or my Labour Party is going to get annihilated in two years time.

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