Matthew d'Ancona writes in The Telegraph of Labour's worsening state. Referring to the publication this week in The Times of Cherie Blair's memoirs, he identifies the central fact of Labour politics in the past 14 years:
The central fact, the dominant narrative of the Blair years, was Brown's demand for a departure date. From the moment in May 1994 when it was agreed that Gordon would step aside and give Tony a clear run at the leadership, to June 2007 when Blair finally left Number 10, this running argument consumed the two men, poisoned their relationship and snarled up day-to-day administration.
Indeed, it sometimes seemed that the Labour Government was no more than a gigantic, fractious timetabling committee with a single issue on its agenda: how soon the PM would leave. All of which was most peculiar for the rest of us to behold, given that Blair racked up three election victories, two by landslide, exceeding even Margaret Thatcher's aggregate of parliamentary majorities.
Why on earth would he resign just to give Gordon a turn, as if Number 10 were a Nintendo DS to be shared by the children? Since when was the governance of Britain organised on a rota basis? What a ridiculous way to run a country. Still, that is the way New Labour has run it.
The single greatest weakness of Labour administration has been Gordon Brown, and the single greatest mistake of Tony Blair was to allow Brown to be in the position of inflicting such damage. The agreement between them in 1994 was unprincipled, and Blair should not have adhered to it. Brown would not have beaten Blair in a leadership election in 1994; Blair should have challenged him to run. Brown's systematic disloyalty during Blair's premiership was scandalous; it ought to have been confronted. Blair, at a minimum, should have moved Brown to the Foreign Office after the 2001 election, with the clear implication that it was a demotion. Better still would have been to sack Brown from the government. Now he has attained his prime ministerial ambition, Brown has proved useless to the task and an electoral liability of record-breaking magnitude.
I hesitate to reiterate all this, week after week, only because it might appear a statement of the obvious. But it wasn't obvious enough either to Labour MPs or to political commentators while Blair was PM. Brown was typically depicted as a politician of substance, competence and intellectual weight, and his implosion has been a matter of widespread wonderment and distress (see Polly Toynbee's articles for plaintive instances). It cannot be said too often that the weakness of Brown as premier was entirely predictable from a pattern of dysfunctional conduct and a gross overestimate of his own political significance. It is of the utomost importance for Labour's prospects that Brown be replaced as leader without delay.
It's yet one more indication of the party's ramshackle state that its method of electing a leader makes that especially difficult. A responsible party of government would have a simple and unexceptionable procedure for electing a leader, with the franchise confined to MPs alone. A responsible party of government would, moreover, get rid of this peculiarly undistinguished and destructive incumbent now.