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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager-Alcohol-OTE £90,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum + £50,000 OTE + Car, Mobile, Benefits: h2 Recruit Lt...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£23200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Austen Lloyd: Company Secretary

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: EAST ANGLIA - SENIOR SOLICITOR LEVEL ROLE** -...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Consultant - Helpdesk

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continuing expansion, a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game