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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.

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