OPINION: The 'Anyone But Gordon's lack conviction

For people without inside knowledge of British politics (ie voters) there must sometimes be complete bemusement at what is going on in the Labour Party.

Like everyone vaguely connected to the Westminster village, I knew what was in the offending ‘cash for honours' email but, sadly, couldn't tell you.

Even more baffling for the voters last week was the launch of a new web site by two ex-Cabinet ministers - Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn. They told everyone on radio and TV that this was all about ‘having a debate' on the future direction of the Labour Party, yet everyone in Westminster knows it was nothing of the kind. It was the launch of the ABG campaign -‘Anyone But Gordon'.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock didn't beg Clarke not to go ahead with his website launch for nothing. He knows only too well that division in a political party ultimately leads to defeat.

The fact that the current division is not based on ideology must confuse voters even more.

In the old days it was clear that Tony Blair was standing for the ‘right' against the ‘left', and he even benefited from that battle. But on what grounds do Clarke and Milburn oppose the Chancellor?

No, this has everything to do with personal animosity. But this is nothing new.

A few days after the tragic death of John Smith I bumped into Clarke and was shocked at his abusive tirade against my then boss Gordon Brown.

Much of this animosity - albeit from a very small minority of MPs - remained under the surface, apart from ridiculous rumours about the shadow chancellor's sexuality.

Ten years later these opponents are wrongly branded ‘Blairites', but Brown finds it difficult to fight back for two reasons: their attacks aren't really political, and he cannot be rushed into announcing his big ideas before he takes over as PM. He will then need to make a big impression quickly because Blair is showing little sign of going one second before he has to - and the opinion polls can only get worse for Labour.

Blair has at least admitted that his long goodbye was a mistake, but that does not make the drift in the Labour Party any better. Margaret Thatcher said ‘direction' in politics was all-important. David Cameron has not come up with any new policies yet, but he has added plenty of new direction - and he is doing well.

Brown is desperate for such dir­ection, but this would come more easily with a genuine leadership challenge. Snide sniping from the likes of Milburn and Clarke only helps one man - Cameron.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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