The Year in Review: Labour

Goodbye, Gordon. Hello to an era of opposition

For Gordon Brown, the end of his stormy premiership was traumatic, nerve-wracking and humiliating. It could have been much worse. Many Labour cabinet ministers had anticipated a slaughter for their party in May. On the basis of their low expectations, a hung parliament was almost as a pleasant surprise.

Nonetheless for Brown, who had dominated politics for nearly two decades, his final months as prime minister were bleak. His fall had a Shakespearean edge in that he had been the mighty Chancellor for 11 largely successful years. As Chancellor, he had also pulled the strings during Labour's three previous election-winning campaigns. This was the great dramatic twist. Although he had ached to be prime minister, Brown was much more powerful in the Treasury than he was in No 10.

Nowhere was this tragic irony more vividly displayed than during the election campaign that was held under appropriately dark skies and unusually cold temperatures. Brown wandered around the country with his entourage like King Lear banished from his power base. Peter Mandelson pulled the strings at the party's headquarters as a penniless party sought to campaign with a leader who had lost his political touch long ago.

But Brown was a great survivor, one of the few leaders-in-waiting in British politics who became a leader and who then survived three attempted coups, including one at the beginning of this year. He was similarly defiant at the election. While his many enemies in politics and the media predicted a grisly demise, Brown surfaced on the Friday after the election still holding on to power by his much-bitten finger nails. It was not until the following Tuesday that he finally left Downing Street after a failed attempt to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Brown's farewell speech with his two young children by his side touched many viewers. He became human when it was too late.

Labour has still not had a proper debate about why it lost the election, securing only a slightly higher percentage of the vote than its landslide defeat in 1983. As with so much else, the top of the party is divided over the issue. The Blairites believe the party failed to be New Labour enough. Some of those around the new leader, Ed Miliband, are convinced that it had failed to move away from New Labour quickly enough.

Part of the answer is that Labour failed to come up with a coherent story about the economy, the issue that determines the fate of all governments. Gordon Brown and his chief ally, Ed Balls, wanted the focus to be on their epic response to the financial crisis, a fiscal stimulus showing the benevolent power of government.

Others, including Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson, stressed the need for cuts and what they saw as a more "realistic" approach to the economy. On the whole ,Darling and Mandelson prevailed, but not entirely, which left Labour in the worst of all worlds, conveying two contradictory messages in which the dominant one was a weak echo of their opponents'. If Labour wants to win next time, it needs to have a ruthlessly forensic approach to economic policy-making. On that Brown showed the way, but not last May. He was a brilliantly effective shadow chancellor up until 1997, the last time Labour was in opposition before it won a landslide victory.

The leadership contest that followed Brown's departure highlighted the continuing dominance of the former leader. Ed Balls fought the most effective campaign and yet never had a chance of winning because of his close association with Brown. Ed Miliband managed to beat his brother David partly because he kept a deliberate distance from his past, one in which he was as much a "Brownite" as Balls. The leadership contest was another strange political duel in which two brothers battled it out. Labour struggles to leave behind the intensity of psycho-dramas.

Now Labour's fate is partly dependent on whether Ed Miliband can change perceptions of Labour's economic record in power. After he left office, Brown disappeared from public view to write a book on the financial crisis that dominated his premiership. His account was about the immediate past but will determine his party's future. In the book, Beyond The Crash, which was published towards the end of the year, Brown argued that the financial crisis was global in its origins and can be addressed only by a new set of global rules to govern banks and international finance.

If the argument starts to resonate, it will be harder for the Coalition to blame Britain's economic weaknesses solely on the previous Labour government. So far though, the message of David Cameron and George Osborne that they have no choice but to clear up Labour's mess gives the duo a powerful protective shield. A year ago, Labour looked as if it was going to lose. The path towards a future victory is far from clear.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower