Today's comment: Toynbee's Cromwellian rhetoric

Polly turns on Brown

Yesterday I noted that Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley once one of Gordon Brown’s biggest press supporters, had turned against him, and speculated that her colleague Polly Toynbee might follow suit. Today she does.

Providing no room for ambiguity, Toynbee declares, “Gordon Brown has been tested and found in want of almost every attribute a leader needs.” While Ashley predicted a summer putsch, Toynbee advocates one. She urges a delegation of MPs to march to Downing Street on 5 June, the day after the local elections, and force Brown out.

“Plot it now, do it fast,” she says. And by the end as she declares, “Ordinary party members, you valiant few, get up and tell your MPs that Gordon Brown must go.”, she almost threatens to break into Cromwell’s words to the Rump Parliament: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Like Ashley, Toynbee alights upon the amiable figure of Alan Johnson as the natural replacement for Brown. “Orphan boy, genial postman, self-made, clever but modest, he has the grace and charm to match his perfect backstory,” she says.

“I doubt that he can win for Labour. But, goodness knows, Cameron is still there for the taking.”

Speaker Martin under fire

Elsewhere, the Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne is also concerned with forcing a Scotsman out of office -the Commons Speaker Michael Martin. Outraged at Martin’s failure to unambiguously apologise for the expenses scandal and his decision to involve the police in investigating the leaks, Oborne declares: “Martin has been at the apex of the culture of deceit and downright fraud which has destroyed the once luminous reputation of the British parliament.”

He accuses the Speaker of presiding over “wholesale larceny” and argues venomously: “reform is utterly impossible while this arrogant and greedy man remains in office”.

Although the Guardian’s imperishable sketch writer Simon Hoggart doubts that Martin will be forced out.

“Gordon Brown will stay loyal to a fellow Labour Scot, and the Tories don't want a new Speaker chosen before they have a majority,” he notes.

Expenses furore

Back on expenses, David Aaronovitch in the Times lays the blame for the absence of reform on: “a public that becomes intoxicated by its own outrage that wants democracy but doesn't want to pay for it and whose preferred form of political engagement is tossing the rattle out of the pram.” He suggests the public would not tolerate the increase in MPs pay required to streamline the bloated claims system.

Elsewhere, the Financial Times’s chief political commentator Philip Stephens writes that the furore over expenses masks longer-term and far more corrosive problems.

He warns of “a style of politics that squeezes out local participation by centralising power at Westminster; to parties whose outlooks are locked in the tribal divisions of the early 20th century; and, dare one say it, to a media that ignores serious political argument and amplifies personal frailties.” The expenses scandal is in many ways a superficial reflection of these underlying defects, he suggests.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.