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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.