Andrew Grice: The hurdles for Mr Brown get higher by the day

The Week in Politics: Brown must stop looking at the Blair years and move on

Share
Related Topics

The last time I went to see Tony Blair in Downing Street, the first thing he said was: "They tell me you have gone over to Gordon." I was taken aback. Gone over? To dinner? To his office? No, of course, to Gordon's gang, a defector from Tony's tribe.

I mumbled something about being a journalist, not a player, and wanting to talk to all sides in all parties. Then we had a good chat as he chomped his way through a giant bacon sandwich.

Mr Blair's revealing opening remark came back to mind this week when Charles Clarke, in his latest volcanic eruption against Gordon Brown, complained that Brown allies used "Blairite" and "Blairism" as a term of abuse in Labour's internal debate. It was rather overlooked because of his call for Mr Brown to stand down if he can't revive Labour's prospects soon – and for the Cabinet to push him out unless he jumps first (which he won't).

Mr Clarke, the former home secretary, argued in the New Statesman that it was time for Labour to move on from the Blair-Brown faultline which has run through the party since Mr Blair became its leader in 1994. Proving his point, Tony Woodley, joint leader of the biggest trade union Unite, popped up on Radio 4 yesterday and used "Blairite" as an insult.

If there is a Labour leadership election – and it is still an "if"– no one will rush to be the "Blairite" candidate. David Miliband's instincts were always to the left of Mr Blair's, but he may struggle to win such a contest if his opponents label him as the Blairite.

It's a bit odd that Labour folk think like this, given that Mr Blair won three general elections. It's also surprising that Mr Blair is still such a presence in Labour's debate, as he left No 10 and the Commons 16 months ago. He has tried not to stalk the Downing Street corridors like a ghost, in the way Margaret Thatcher did not allow John Major to escape her shadow. Whatever his private dismay at Mr Brown's performance, he has not uttered a word of criticism.

In a leaked email, Mr Blair warned that his successor had played into the Tories' hands because he "dissed" Labour's record since 1997 and "junked the TB policy agenda but had nothing to put in its place".

Interestingly, this view is not confined to Blairites. It is shared by some of Mr Brown's closest allies, who believe their man's biggest mistake is his failure to set out a mission statement for his government. "Gordon has wasted too much time in the past year looking backwards – at the Blair period and his own record at the Treasury," one told me. "He has gotto look forward now."

To say that time is short is an understatement. Mr Brown needed a good start to his much-trumpeted fightback this week. Great expectations about a non-existent "economic plan" were allowed to build, so that his measures on housing and fuel poverty were doomed to be dubbed a "damp squib" in the same media shorthand.

It has been an inauspicious start. Alistair Darling's off-message gloom about the economy. Jacqui Smith's leaked warning that crime will rise in the downturn. Mr Clarke's outburst. And a cack-handed decision to announce the housing market measures on the day when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development was to publish its forecasts. Its prediction that Britain is entering a recession stole the headlines.

"Gordon has got to show leadership and grip," one cabinet loyalist said. Other members of the Cabinet appear to be keeping their heads down. I sense that some are sitting on their hands rather than rushing to help him make a success of his "one last chance" to turn things round.

"We have not given Gordon much support in the past year," one cabinet member admitted. Others concede they have become virtual technocrats, swamped by the pressures of running a department, but blame an ineffectual Downing Street machine for the lack of clear political marching orders and coherent line of attack on David Cameron's Tories.

Allies are urging Mr Brown to remember his own mantra that Labour is "best when it's boldest" rather than fret about the reaction of a largely hostile media, or comparisons with his predecessor. It is finally time for him to be his own man, they say.

But the hurdles for Mr Brown get higher by the day. His friends are praying that he will throw off his self-imposed shackles and explain his Government's mission. After a dodgy start to the Great Relaunch, they admit an awful lot is now riding on his address to the Labour conference on 23 September. It is no exaggeration to say he needs to make the speech of his life.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Cameron's unexpected tax pledges give the Tories home advantage

Andrew Grice
President Barack Obama walks with U.S. Secret Service agents to Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2014.  

Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

David Usborne
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence