Talk about Newsnight

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Friday, 8 September, 2006

  • Newsnight
  • 8 Sep 06, 05:37 PM

brown_smile203.jpgOn Friday's Newsnight: Michael Crick follows Gordon Brown around Edinburgh on a day when the former home secretary Charles Clarke laid into the chancellor; we ask was George W Bush's claim that secret CIA prisons helped thwart terror attacks just an attempt to sweeten the pill of Wednesday's admission the prisons exist; and a contrite Ethical Man meets ethical Al Gore.

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  • 1.
  • At 05:59 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

Charles Clarke is obviously a very bright guy, but seems (if one is allowed to say this here without being defamatory) somewhat to lack in ‘political judgement’ – that elusive quality which can’t be tested in ‘A’ levels or taught in private schools. He was spot on, as Paul Mason explained, earlier in the week, that progressive reform has largely stalled because there is a huge unresolved tension between (not wanting to get too wonkish, but I fear succeeding) authoritarian and communitarian approaches to the progressive policy agenda. That is what is behind this week’s events; far more than Gordon’s or anyone else’s personal ambition – and accusations often say more about the accuser than the accused. And this is absolutely the debate needed within the Labour Party, and the country at large.

Except that, as James Purnell said last night, debate is no longer allowed in the Labour Party. In smoke filled rooms or anywhere else. (Except perhaps now with Newsnight!) Lance Price’s book exposé showed exactly how policy is currently decided in the Labour Party: in the press room. James, a graduate of the number 10 policy unit anti-chamber to the press room, may feel it has been opened up, but it hasn’t felt that way to anyone outside those hallowed quarters. A communitarian response requires not shutting down the smoke filled rooms, but opening them up.

But the point is that the last year of a ten-year term of towering stature is not an environment in which the authoritarian-communitarian tension can start to be resolved; particularly when Tony is indelibly linked with the authoritarian side of the argument. Which, given the lack of experienced ‘big beasts,’ was what was needed ten years ago.

Now it is only debate that can work through the tensions. There are no silver bullets or simple solutions, if there were it wouldn't be politics. Of course, Gordon also has an authoritarian track record, and it could prove impossible to shake off. But important as the past is, politics is undeniably about the future. For me, the big question is whether Gordon can show that his stance at the treasury was only his response to that of his leader Tony and that he can lead in a communitarian direction, to make real progress putting progressive policies into action – before people make their choice at the next general election. This question could be answered somewhat in a party leadership election campaign but, as Dennis Healy said, that would be hugely damaging. And he knows. Which isn't to say there should not be an election process; just not a ‘no holds barred’ campaign in the middle of government. If the last week has been destabilising, what would a couple of months look like? Horrible! For the Labour Party undoubtedly, but also for the country.

Tony Blair is now without question the towering figure in Labour Party history, and has made his indelible mark on history furthering the progressive agenda. He is the indelible man. He cannot be written out. And it is clearly his choice when he goes. After which, hopefully, the debate, not the war, will begin.

  • 2.
  • At 06:03 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Christine Constable wrote:

It is a scandalous betrayal of the English to blurt on about Britishness, when it was New Labour that gave Britishness it's marching orders.

Let's see a rennaisance in Scottishness

Let's see a rennaisance in Welshness, give them their own executives, (Parliament's and Assemblies) let them speak Gaelic and Welsh and enhance the "differences" between the nations of the UK. All that is apart from England.

England shall be totally ignored. She shall have no Parliament, no vote on devolution, she shall be denied a First Minister, she shall have her culture removed by a spiteful "multicultural" experiment aimed to destroy what is left of the distinct English culture a thousand years of history gave us.

Britishness increasingly means nothing to the English. Being British doesn't mean you can speak English, doesn't mean you have a loyalty to the country, doesn't even mean you share English values and way of life. What is Britishness? The Scots don't see themselves as British they see themselves as Scottish, and the Welsh as Welsh - surprise surprise the English also see themselves as English.

Britishness has lost meaning through devolution and the watering down of our national identity through mass unwanted inward migration.

Why does New Labour want to continue to deny England her national identity? Isn't that tantamount to genocide to deny a people their culture and national identity?

Well, many English people feel that what is happening is exactly that - genocide being perpetrated by a spiteful Scottish cabal - that many of us want to see the back of.

  • 3.
  • At 06:21 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Brian Kelly wrote:

Dour Gordon Browne ,smiling for the cameras for his latest speech & still pushing his Britishness? !...
He's a true Scotsman, & wannabee PM!, aligned with( mainly) a Scottish team of sycophantic like minded neo apparatchik's, these people should never not be the guardians of the UK...firstly demand they sort out "The West Lothian Question" foremost as a test of BRITISHNESS!
It would be a welcome change for the Electorate to have a government speaking ENGLISH , England style... & a Prime Minister of substance & guts...AKA ,Charles Clarke, if i was a Labour Voter!

But i'm a Tory... And very British..English Style!

  • 4.
  • At 08:27 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Alan Clayton wrote:

Friday' Newsnight London must be the worst case of metropolitan parochialism I have seen in recent times. They mamaged to be in Edinburgh without any serious mention of the Broon leadership bid within the Scottish context.

  • 5.
  • At 08:30 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Alan Clayton wrote:

Last night's Newsnight London must have been one of the worst examples of Metropolitan Parochialism I have come across in recent times. They managed to be in Edinburgh without any more than an passing mention of the Scottish question.

  • 6.
  • At 01:12 PM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • David Baldwin wrote:

Just a point of infornation for my southern cousins...a growing chunk of the Scottish population are equally as appaulled by Brown and the 'Scottish Raj' as you English folks.

Increasingly, Brown et al do not represent Scottish opinion and most of us up here would hvae no issue with England having its own parliament. Brown is a unionist dinosaur on his way out...not all us Scots are like him. However, if English Labour supporters vote in Brown to replace Blair, you will get even more of the same...thus, you must all vote for anyone BUT Brown to succeed Blair!

  • 7.
  • At 08:06 PM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • David McEwan Hill wrote:

Brown is an artificial construct and his pedestrian efforts to prove his "Britishness" have made him a figure of fun in much of Scotland.
The Dunfermline and West Fife by-election last year tells you all you need to know about what a very sizeable chunk of Scotland thinks of Brown. At that by-election the seat in which Brown lives and which was high up on the "safe Labour seat" list was lost. Brown now has a LibDem MP and an SNP councillor in his district ward.
His time has passed and he is surrounded by a clammy group of Scots sychophants who haven't noticed this yet. We know him rather better than the English do.
Be warned. He can't win a General Election and I doubt if he will lead the Labour Party if he is flushed out and has to start performing publicly - which he has always avoided doing to date

  • 8.
  • At 11:00 PM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Will wrote:

Would have made an interesting week for the Gordaq, don't you think Peter?!

  • 9.
  • At 11:50 AM on 10 Sep 2006,
  • Mike Mackenzie wrote:

It's all very well to talk of a battle of ideologies between top down authortitarianism and bottom up communitarianism as if all you have to do is flick a switch from one position to another.An organisation like New Labour which has been inherently authoritarian, not only within itself but in terms of the legislation it has enacted, and which owes its electoral success to this approach is quite simply not capable of turning itself inside out and adopting the opposite stance of bottom up communitarianism.

  • 10.
  • At 12:03 PM on 10 Sep 2006,
  • Paul D wrote:

What is becoming evident in the leadership debacle is that one of the flagship policies of New Labour is coming back to haunt them. Devolution may have delivered much to Scotland and Wales but there is mounting resentment in England at what many believe to be fundamental unfairness in the way that English affairs are managed. Reading the blogs, it is becoming clear that Mr.Brown's clutching at the 'Britishness' straw is cutting very little ice with the public and, interestingly, that a lot of this scepticism is coming from north of the border.

Whoever succeeds Mr.Blair must now surely recognise the need to persue the agenda to its logical conclusion by allowing the English to manage their own domestic affairs and limit the powers of parliament at Westminister to foreign and defence policy and macro-economics. In other words, a federal system of government. When the British perceive that they are being fairly treated regardless of geographical location, perhaps they will be less sensitive about the origins of their Prime Minister. Until this is addressed, there will be an increasing number of English voters who will feel that a Scot is not an appropriate person for the job.

This could be particularly serious for Labour in the circumstances since Brown is just one of three Scots who may otherwise be serious contenders but the LibDems should also pay heed as both the present and previous leaders are Scots and their policy of sustaining Labour in office in Edinburgh has not been lost on English LibDems many of whom see Labour as the enemy.

I don't personally hold any particular brief for this kind of English nationalism, prefering that the leader should be the right person for the job but the simple truth is that the spectacle of lots of non-English people jockeying for position as to who governs England may fuel these feelings to the point where a Scottish leader is simply not electorally sustainable.

Having held off from commenting, until Gordon Brown’s response is on the record, it now seems clear that these attacks may have fatally wounded his political aspirations.
He has long been in an invidious position, endowed with more potential than most prime ministers but doomed to ever be the bridesmaid; something that most notably was the fate of Rab Butler in the 1960s. It must have been galling to be so close to power and yet so far away; especially when as, until these recent contretemps, his smooth transition to PM was seemingly ‘promised’.

I can only think that the imminent possibility of this actually happening at last forced him to face up to the reality that he might lose an election. Hence, perhaps, his desperate attempt to bounce Tony Blair into anointing him; and the furious row which then erupted.
He may have thought that the resulting damage would all be to Blair, as it has been for the past year or so, but in fact the chief victim has been his own career. He may not have been organizing the ‘coup’, though it increasingly looks as if he had some part in it, but – most damagingly – he did nothing to stop it.

The worst impact of the Charles Clarke attacks was that they were believable. They might not be true – and the now notorious ‘smile’ probably had an innocent explanation (not least that his spin doctors had advised him to be less ‘dour’) – but the insight into his ‘bad behaviour’ as a member of the government team, almost throwing tantrums if he didn’t get his way, sort of rings true. Thinking back to previous quarrels, it suddenly seems that Tony Blair has been incredibly generous in letting him stay in government; where Margaret Thatcher, for example regularly sacked dissenting ministers – especially her Chancellors.

The silliest aspect of all is that starting the election race so early gives his competitors far longer to establish themselves, whilst drawing the fire from the media which was focused on Blair onto himself.

It’s a good time to place a bet on his potential competitors; where Brown is still 7/2 odds on favourite!

  • 12.
  • At 09:04 PM on 10 Sep 2006,
  • David McEwan Hill wrote:

A nice comment about Broon by Ian Bell in one of today's serious Scottish newspapers.

"It is possible to be British and Scottish simultaneously but not possible to Scottish and English at the same time".

It looks very much as though Broon has taken a gamble here and it has misfired badly. Some things are becoming very obvious.
*There is no chance of Broon leading a united Labour Party.
*There is a significant section of the Labour Party that will stop Brown at all costs. This is the case also in the Labour Party in Scotland.The question to be answered is why this is so.
*Tony Blair is trying to prevent Broon following him.
I would bet now that Broon neither gets to lead the Labour Party nor ever becomes Prime Minister.
The fact is that any serious examination of Broon's position on
anything except the economy exposes him very badly. He has made a career of never being in the firing line at difficult times. His support for and paying of the Iraq invasion will sink him should his record ever be put up to serious scrutiny.
On the Constitutional question an Independent England (with or without Wales)is the quick, clean and acceptable solution to the West Lothian question.
The Sunday Times in Scotland today carries the latest YouGov poll showing (again) a majority in Scotland for Independence.

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