Isabel Hardman

Gordon Brown tries to save his party

Gordon Brown tries to save his party
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Gordon Brown has just given one of his saving-the-world-at-the-last-minute speeches. He was speaking just as the ballot papers for his party’s leadership election are being sent out, and in keeping with his other saving-the-world-at-the-last-minute speeches, particularly the one he delivered shortly before the Scottish referendum, it was a barnstormer.

His main theme was the importance of getting Labour into shape so that it can be in power in order to carry out its moral mission. Brown argued that ‘it is not an abandonment of principles to seek power and to use that power in government. It is the realisation of principles’. He described the party as being broken-hearted after losing May’s election, but adde that ‘there is one thing worse than having broken hearts: it is powerlessness’. He referenced the faction that believes its favourite for leader is the least electable of all, and then took his audience through a long history lesson.

In that history lesson, Brown argued that Keir Hardie’s work mean ‘Labour was able to put its priorities into practice by forming a government’ because Hardie saw it as a moral duty to get Labour into power. He spoke of the damage that he saw Labour’s long period of opposition during the 1980s doing to those who suffered under a Tory government, before defending the record and achievements of the 1997-2010 Labour government.

But he was also quite clearly attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s worldview. He talked about the risks of protesting against globalisation. And he directly attacked the alliances that Corbyn favours:

‘And I have to say that if our global alliances are going to be alliances with Hezbollah and Hamas and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, there is absolutely no chance of building a worldwide alliance that can deal with poverty and inequality and climate change and financial instability.’

He also critiqued Corbyn’s euroscepticism, and reminded the audience that Europe ‘led the way in defeating anti-semitism’, which could also be read as a reference to some of Corbyn’s apparent tolerance of people with anti-semitic views.

His overarching theme was that Labour can only protect the people it cares about if it wins an election and if it does what is necessary to win elections. An obvious point, perhaps, but one that needs making when the debate has become about principles vs power, as if the two are mutually exclusive.

This response from John McDonnell, key Corbyn supporter, shows that there are really two camps supporting the Islington socialist.

Gordon Brown right to say vote for hope & electability.Fully agree.Hope is Jeremy's campaign theme &most polls put him ahead on electability

— John McDonnell (@johnmcdonnellMP) August 16, 2015

The first is the group which gets the most attention because its pronouncements are so ludicrous: the one that thinks it is better to be in opposition with the Tories in government than have compromised on your ‘principles’. Brown was mainly addressing this group.

But the second is more powerful because it believes that Corbyn is electable, and that the British public is actually hungering for a strong-willed left-wing leader of a left-wing political party. That faction will spend the next few days arguing that Brown’s point about the importance of electability applies equally to the importance of electing Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader because in their view Corbyn is the way to winning. This faction will continue to make this point if Corbyn doesn’t win, and will not stop making this point if Labour fails to win in 2020.

In fact, the chances are that this faction will not stop making this argument until a figure with Corbyn’s political stance is elected and takes Labour into an election to test the thesis about a hunger for a left-wing government. Those who have already concluded that Labour doesn’t win when it goes left will say this is a pointless, painful waste of an election that will keep the Tories in power all the way to 2025, but the Corbynite faction is growing in size and confidence, which means that it is no longer good enough just to argue that there is one way to get Labour elected again.

P.S. Turns out you can't win 'em all, not even people who've been elected as MPs into the same party as you...