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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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.