Hitchens on Brown

Christopher Hitchens savages Gordon Brown in the latest issue of Vanity Fair and calls on the Labour Party to dispose of him immediately. He writes:

For many years he waited as a resentful dauphin, swallowing his envy and bile. And then, like the fruit of the medlar tree, he went rotten before he was ripe

He also recalls the shameful treatment of foreign minister Ivan Lewis who had the details of his flirtatious text messages to a female colleague leaked to the News of the World after he had the temerity to call for a more progressive tax system. Around the same time Alistair Darling was disgracefully smeared as a political innocent after correctly stating that we had entered the worst financial crisis for sixty years.

But for all the sins of Brown's aides, I think it's a mistake to simply source Labour's woes back to his leadership, as Hitchens does. It was under Blair that the party haemorrhaged members and had its councillor base decimated in the post-Iraq 2004 elections.

The casual assumption in much of the media that Labour was destined to win a fourth term until Brown entered Downing Street is wide of the mark. Very few parties anywhere in the world win four successive terms in office. That Brown has been unable to reverse Labour's decline is as much down to the hollowed out party he inherited as it is to his own weaknesses.

Elsewhere in the piece, Hitchens's recollection of his time in the Labour Party is a reminder that a man often thought to have begun his activist days on the Trotskyist left in the International Socialists was first attracted to the centre-left.

"In the political battles of those days, about inequality and exploitation, about nucler weapons and apartheid ... one went to a Labour Party meeting expecting, and getting, a fight over important matters of principle," he writes.

His early break with the social-democratic left over Harold Wilson's support for the Vietnam war does much to explain why, when he abandoned socialism, he didn't simply retreat to a more moderate branch of the left.

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.