Don’t blame the Labour rebels – it’s the government that is the problem.

The old Labour knocking copy against the Conservatives is being retailed against them, and recycled by a government in a hole against its “rebels”. It really is too absurd.
In the 1990s Labour put around the idea that the Conservatives were too divided to be able to govern. The Conservative Prime Minister echoed these sentiments, constantly briefing the press about the need for unity – around his view of what we should do and say next. Now we have a Labour government in trouble. The pollsters ask the public if they think the governing party is divided – of course it is. They ask if the governing party is unpopular – of course it is. The Prime Minister then yells at the rebels for daring to disagree, blaming them for the poor showing in the polls and the probable poor results in the forthcoming local elections. Everywhere from the super loyal Mirror to the leader page of the Daily Telegraph we see the old fib wheeled out – what is wrong with the government is the persistence by the rebels in disagreeing with their Prime Minister.
How stupid! The Conservative party of Margaret Thatcher at the height of her powers was both popular and deeply divided between wets and dries, pro Europeans and Eurosceptics. The Conservative party of Michael Howard was uniquely united in the run up to the Election of 2005, but it did not make us popular. The Labour government of Tony Blair was hugely divided between modernisers and traditionalists, between Brownies and Blairites, between old left and new left, yet it kept on winning.
Very often when a government is in a deep hole of its own digging it is the so-called “rebels” who are the true friends of the party and the government. If the “rebels” who were angry about the abolition of the 10p tax band had been taken seriously earlier, and concessions made before the row became so public, the government would be more popular than it is today. The government is not unpopular today because it has rebels. It is unpopular because it has failed to see that the rebels are usually on the popular side of an argument.
The main cause of the government’s current unpopularity is the state of the economy. People feel squeezed by higher taxes and higher prices. Some now fear for their jobs – as do some Labour MPs as they look at the opinion polls. People know that the government has taken too much money from them, and spent much of it unwisely. That is what is making them angry. They welcome the fact that some Labour MPs understand, and are trying to get the government to think again.
It is never easy trying to get an obstinate government to understand the sources of its unpopularity, as I well remember from my experiences in the 1990s. What you can be sure about is if you do not try to point out the errors of a failing government’s ways you will go down with the ship. If you succeed, you can help right the ship. I admire the Labour “rebels” who want to save the Brown government, but listening to the rhetoric coming out of Downing Street – and from Tesssa Jowell – they cannot be saved because they think the rebels are just being difficult. At their best the rebels speak for Britain.

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6 Comments

  1. Rose
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I seem to remember the only serious opposition in the eighties was within the Conservative Party. It continued until it finally overthrew the administration of Margaret Thatcher, who had never been, and never was, defeated in the country. The official opposition at that time didn't operate very effectively.

  2. Tony Makara
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    The problem Labour face is they have become so dependent on the Blair/Brown axis that they have no figure to lead the opposition to Brown. The Blair/Brown years turned off the intellectual tap in the Labour party and now their think tank is empty. To effectively oppose Brown there needs to be a new rationale but with no-one thinking outside of the party line creating a new vision is impossible. Once Labour return to opposition they will be able to re-group but more importantly for them they will have something to build a consensus against. For a party that has wallowed in the comfort-zone and has run out of ideas, having a target to aim at will increase the focus and create an end-goal. Currently labour are lost and quite literally are going through the motions, no direction, no vision, no government in the proper sense of the word.

  3. Donitz
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I cannot agree, rebel or not, no socialist speaks for me.

  4. mikestallard
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Everything about Mr Brown over the past ten or so years has pointed up his own self importance and his own pride in his own views and opinions. He was presented before becoming PM as being one of the best read men in parliament. He was presented as a true intellectual and a giant among pigmies.
    He quite deliberately chose young, inexperienced people for his senior ministers to sit at his feet and listen to his brilliance. Parliament, of course, was sidelined as was the Cabinet. As were people like Charles Clarke and Frank Field.
    All this means that he is now unable to get true and good advice. He is surrounded by toadies and he only hears what he wants to hear.
    There is absolutely no chance therefore that any sensible suggestions will be made and no chance of any common sense prevailing.
    What affects all the people should be discussed by all the people – Edward II. This man is not discussing anything. Hence the string of disastrous decisions.

    The same, of curse, goes for the EU Commission, don't you think?

  5. Bazman
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    The crocodile tears of the Tory party to the tax losers is not going to convince future voters. The Labour rebels should have cost more to the government is true John.

  6. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    On the point of disunity not harming political parties all that I would say is that the chaos that marked the transformation of the SDP- Liberal Alliance into the Liberal Democrats and the fight with the Owenite rump & Lib Dems between 1988 &1990 does prove that a lack of unity can be terminal for a political Party . The SDP cost the Lib Dems victory in Richmond Yorks & Epping Forest while the Greens eclipsed the Lib Dems in the European elections . It was not until 1997 that the Lib Dems made serious advances at a general election and not until 2001 that their share of the vote went up in a general election . The split in the SDP & David Owens refusal to lead the merged party caused Social Democrat defeats in Woolwich & Greenwich in 1992 and the Lib Dems to poll 4.7% less at that general election despite an unpopular Labour leader pushing a hard left programe and a Tory government that was following an agenda that destroyed the living standards of large numbers of voters . Under those conditions the Lib Dems could not advance and indeed fell back . So while I accept the thesis that disunity is not always terminal there are exceptions to every rule – just ask David Owen , David Steel , Paddy Ashdown et al about 1988-90 and they will doubtless tell you that diversity & discussion is one thing – civil war is quite another !

    Reply: On the contrary, the addition of the SDP to the Libs did pose a more serious challenge for a time to the Conservatives. The problems of the Labour party which spawned the SDP were problems created by a leadership which decided to adopt a toxic policy agenda which the moderates within Labour, and much of the electorate, could not accept.

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