Socialist Worker

Gordon Brown can’t escape the crisis he created

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2157

Not long ago Gordon Brown looked like he was finished.

The week that Brown received multiple resignations from his cabinet also saw disastrous results for Labour in the council and European elections.

It seemed that he could be forced out of office any day.

But Brown has survived. And, what’s more, it seems that the bulk of Labour ministers have closed ranks around him.

So what happened?

Official statements from ministers and from Brown himself imply that the crisis is over, the party has moved on and Brown’s leadership is secure.

Some ministers have referred to the general crisis of confidence in the political establishment as a whole to try to excuse Brown from any particular responsibility.

So new Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward said, “Of course the prime minister is staying and he will lead the Labour Party through to the general election.

“What we have at the moment is a confidence crisis in trust in our institutions in this country.”

It is outrageous that Labour ministers are using the lack of legitimacy engulfing the entire political system as a cover for their own failings.

But despite the proclamations that Labour is over the worst, you don’t have to look far beneath the surface to see that the crisis gripping the party is alive and well.

Slavishly

Take last week’s Unison union conference.

So far too many union leaders have remained slavishly devoted to Labour, despite the growing economic crisis that is threatening the jobs, benefits, services and pensions of millions of union members.

Many might have expected Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis to deliver a speech at the conference calling on people to stick with Labour, despite its attacks on workers, to stop the Tories getting elected.

Instead he delivered a stunning attack on the government and called for the withdrawing of some of Unison’s funding for Labour.

Of course he didn’t declare a complete break with Labour – in fact he defended the Labour Link as an important and integral part of the union.

But he shocked many with his change of tone and his strident attack on the government’s record on the public sector.

The apparent radicalism of Prentis’s speech does not reflect a sudden shift in his political position.

It reflects the widespread fury among workers at Labour. Union leaders can’t always get away with not connecting with that anger.

There are other indications of Labour’s continuing crisis.

That the expenses row continues to dominate the political agenda says much about the damage it has done to Labour and to the establishment in general.

The way that Brown has been forced into such a speedy retreat on whether the inquiry into the Iraq war will be public or private is another reflection on his weakness.

Meanwhile Hazel Blears survived an attempt to deselect her as a Salford MP last week. Some may take this as a sign of the party’s strength.

But the meeting was attended by just 45 Labour Party members – reflecting Labour’s dire weakness on the ground.

We have not seen the end of Labour’s infighting. The Sunday Times reported this week that senior ministers are questioning Brown’s tactics for taking on the Tories at the next election.

And Peter Mandelson has already predicted that challenges to Brown’s leadership may resurface at Labour’s annual conference in September.

Brown’s survival is by no means guaranteed.

And the fact that he is still clinging on for now just shows up another weakness of Labour – the impotence of the Labour left and its inability to provide any sort of alternative within the party.


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Tue 23 Jun 2009, 18:19 BST
Issue No. 2157
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