Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Very British Coup Attempt

In a remarkable day in Westminster, an attempt was made today to oust Gordon Brown as Prime Minister of Britain and the Leader of the Labour Party. Two former cabinet ministers – Geoff Hoon and Patrician Hewitt – used an email to see if they could create the momentum required to force a vote amongst sitting Labour MP’s on Brown’s leadership. This very British coup so near to a general election is unprecedented in parliamentary history and it looks to have failed.

By the end of the day all of the potential leadership contenders – Alan Johnson, David Milliband, Jack Straw, Lord Mandelson, Ed Balls, Alistair Darling – had come out in support of the Prime Minister. Only those who attempted a similar move last summer appear to support the Hoon-Hewitt coup. These rebels include Barry Sherman, Charles Clark and Frank Field – all former cabinet members. Parliamentary Labour Party chairman Tony Lloyd says the plot has "not gone anywhere" among backbench MPs, many of whom are standing down at the next election, now expected May 6th 2010.

Gordon Brown saw off a similar move headed by Charles Clark last summer when, with some humility, he spoke with passion to the Labour MP’s promising a vision for the future and real change. At the time, the Labour Party was close to twenty five percentage points behind the Conservatives in pre-election polling. As of yesterday, the Labour Party was less than ten points behind, despite a faltering economy, massive government spending debt and pending spending cuts.

Hoon-Hewitt argue that a leadership ballot would, once and for all, put the leadership question to rest and clear the air. If Brown won the ballot convincingly, they suggest, then the voices of opposition to him within the party would be silenced and create unity in the run up to the electorate. The rules of the Labour Party require a ballot of all party members – not just MP’s – to determine the leadership of the party.

The Conservative Party, as is clear from several shadow cabinet commentaries on radio and television simply cannot believe their luck. They are using the Hoon-Hewitt move as a vehicle for demanding an earlier election – March rather than May. They are also using it to challenge the ability of the Labour Party, now in serious financial trouble, to govern the country when it cannot manage itself.

While the “noises off”, as one cabinet Minister called the coup attempt, are likely to rumble on for the next few days, the challenge seems to have died out. Politics as usual within the Labour Party.

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