Go fourth the stickers proclaimed

Just what have the bloggers been saying in the week Gordon Brown pulled back from the brink...

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Labour had to call on previously untapped depths of optimism to get through conference – stretching the nation’s credulity in the process. “Go fourth” the stickers adorning the crowd proclaimed, as Brown appeared on stage to the strains of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Higher and Higher’ for his keynote speech. At a time when the party’s poll rating has plummeted to historic lows, it verged on the surreal. But the activists enjoyed it.

Alex Finnegan liked Brown’s address, but was ultimately left unsure whether it was enough to save his neck.

“He has won himself a stay of execution. But that is all. It will take more than a good speech to turn around Labour's fortunes,” he wrote.

Taking a break from complaining his mouldy hotel room mattress, Kerron Cross heaped praise on the PM’s speech, enthusing:

“Gordon played to his strengths. He has beliefs. He wants to do the right thing. And hey, if you don't like him, then fine - he will just get on with doing the right thing and take it on the chin. Because our party is not about personality, it is about doing what is right.”

Inexcusably, he used emotions twice in his post.

Paul Anderson directed his thoughts towards Miliband’s address, and concluded that:

“…while managing to steer the fine line he had to between expressing loyalty to Gordon Brown and placing himself as the front-runner to succeed Brown if and when Brown's position becomes utterly hopeless.”

This was prior to the revelation of Miliband’s ”Heseltine moment”.

Other Labour bloggers avoided obsessing about conference. My namesake on Never Trust a Hippy (I hope this clears up any confusion) was interested in the future of socialism. Identifying with the “new left,” he argued that collective action is best channelled through civil society:

“The beauty of this, of course, is that the left have always had this argument in their peripheral vision. We have won huge victories while no-one was looking - often with Tory governments in power.”

Sounds more like liberalism to me.

Elsewhere, Recess Monkey and Labour Home’s Alex Hilton, who watched Brown’s speech lurking at the back of a hotel bar, this week took a really rather cheap shot at the Tories on the grounds that its party website had a
black and white photo of Sayeeda Warsi. Come on Alex, you can do better than that.

What have we learned this week?

As the cabinet’s gender balance shifts in the wrong direction, it is a woman who takes the lead in the contest to decide the new Lib Dem president. Nomination forms were due in this week, and as predicted at NS online, Chandila Fernando joins Opik and Baroness Scott among the nominees. Scott blogged about her confidence in the race proper, in upbeat mood she wrote:

“We intend to be positive - I think I've got a good story to tell and I'm going to tell it loud and clear. We intend to be innovative - using new campaigning ideas and methods”.

A break from Focus leaflets? That’s what we want to hear!

Reform my kitchen

The conference season gives us the opportunity to amass piles of branded rubbish: mainly mugs, badges and tote bags. The Electoral Reform Society gave us fun fridge magnets. So far my flatmates have used them to spell out “it’s party time,” “strengthen my members” and “I make love with real MPs”. Callow, I know. The society’s excellent Make My Vote Count blog can be found here.

Across the Pond

Over at Shakesville, Melissa McEwan takes issue with Rush Limbaugh’s mendaciously motivated assertion that Barack Obama is not an African-American, but an Arab.

“Neither of Obama's parents were African-Americans, but the fact that his father was African and his mother was an American pretty much makes Obama about as literally African-American as it gets,” she quite reasonably asserted.

Limbaugh often refers to himself as a “harmless lovable little fuzz ball” – if only he were.

Videos of the Week

This week Chester Conservative Future uses T.Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution’ to flog its fresher drive, Will Hutton talks at the Unions 21 fringe and Celia Barlow MP celebrates Labour’s clampdown on lapdancing.

Quote of the Week

“How fair is it that British workers still have the poorest employment rights of any industrialised countries? How fair is it to allow employers to sack staff by text message? How fair is it that cleaners pay a higher marginal rate of tax than hedge fund bosses?”

Dave Osler on Liberal Conspiracy questions Brown’s understanding of “fairness”.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
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Is Scottish Labour on the way back, or heading for civil war?

There are signs of life, but also recriminations.

The extraordinary rise of the Scottish Tories and the collapse in SNP seat numbers grabbed most of the headlines in the recent general election. Less remarked on was the sudden, unexpected exhalation of air that came from what was thought to be the corpse of Scottish Labour.

In 2015, Labour lost 40 of its 41 Scottish seats as the SNP rocketed from six to 56, was wiped out in its Glaswegian heartlands, and looked to have ceded its place as the choice of centre-left voters – perhaps permanently – to the Nationalists. But while the electorate’s convulsion in June against the SNP’s insistence on a second independence referendum most benefited Ruth Davidson, it also served to reanimate Labour.

The six seats grabbed back (making a total of seven) included three in the West of Scotland, proving that the Nat stranglehold on Labour’s territory was not quite as secure as it had seemed. There is, it appears, life in the old dog yet.

Not only that, but the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn across the UK has stiffened Labour’s spine when it comes to insisting that it, and not the SNP, is the rightful home of Scotland’s socialists.

Corbyn was largely kept south of the border during the election campaign – Kezia Dugdale, the leader at Holyrood, had supported Owen Smith’s leadership challenge. But in August, Corbyn will embark on a five-day tour of marginal SNP constituencies that Labour could potentially take back at the next election. The party has set a target of reclaiming 18 Scottish seats as part of the 64 it needs across Britain to win a majority at Westminster. The trip will focus on traditional areas such as Glasgow and Lanarkshire, where tiny swings would return seats to the People’s Party. Dugdale is no doubt hoping for some reflected glory.

Corbyn will present himself as the authentically left-wing choice, a leader who will increase public spending and invest in public services compared to the austerity of the Tories and the timidity of the SNP. “Labour remains on an election footing as a government-in-waiting, ready to end failed austerity and ensure that Scotland has the resources it needs to provide the public services its people deserve,” he said. “Unlike the SNP and the Tories, Labour will transform our economy through investment, insisting that the true wealth creators - that means all of us – benefit from it.”

The SNP has benefited in recent years from the feeling among many north of the border that Labour and the Tories were committed to differing shades of a similar economic programme, that was starving public services of cash and that paid little attention to Scottish desires or needs. But as the Nats’ spell in government in Edinburgh has worn on, first under Alex Salmond and now Nicola Sturgeon, with little being done to tackle the nation’s social problems, patience has started to run out.

Dugdale said yesterday that she “looked forward to joining Jeremy in August as we take our message to the people of Scotland”. That’s not a sentiment we would have heard from her before June. But it does raise the future spectacle of Davidson’s Tories battling for the centre and centre-right vote and Labour gunning for the left. The SNP, which has tried to be all things to all people, will have to make a choice – boasting that it is “Scotland’s Party” is unlikely to be enough.

The 20th anniversary of the referendum that delivered the Scottish Parliament is almost upon us. Then, Scottish Labour provided the UK and the Westminster government with figures of the stature of Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar and George Robertson. That was a long time ago, and the decline in quality of Labour’s representatives both in London and Edinburgh since has been marked. The SNP’s decade of success has attracted much of the brightest new talent through its doors. Young Scots still seem to be set on the idea of independence. Labour has a credibility problem that won’t be easily shaken off.

But still, the body has twitched – perhaps it’s even sitting up. Is Scottish Labour on the way back? If so, is that down to the SNP’s declining popularity or to Corbyn’s appeal? And could Dugdale be a convincing frontwoman for a genuinely left-wing agenda?

There may be trouble ahead. Yesterday, the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism – whose convener, Neil Findlay MSP, ran Corbyn’s leadership campaign in Scotland – accused Dugdale of “holding Corbyn back” in June. A spokesperson for the group said: “While it’s great we won some seats back, it’s clear that the campaign here failed to deliver. While elsewhere we've seen people being enthused by ‘for the many, not the few’ we concentrated on the dispiriting visionless ‘send Nicola a message’ – and paid a price for that, coming third in votes and seats for the first time in a century. In Scotland we looked more like [former Scottish leader] Jim Murphy’s Labour Party than Jeremy Corbyn’s – and that isn’t a good look.”

While the group insists this isn’t intended as a challenge to Dugdale, that might change if Corbyn receives a rapturous reception in August. We’ll learn then whether Scotland is falling for the high-tax, high-spending pitch that seems to be working so well elsewhere, and whether Scottish Labour has jerked back to life only to find itself staring down the barrel of a civil war.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).