Support 100 years of independent journalism.

23 March 2010

The lobbying scandal: bad for all of Labour

This damages both "Blairites" and "Brownites".

By James Macintyre

Sitting in the House of Commons, it is hard to know what could happen to damage the reputation of this place further, following the Tory financial sleaze of the 1990s, the cross-party expenses scandal and now the lobbying affair, in which former Labour ministers have sought to use their supposed influence in a way that, in the words of Geoff Hoon, “frankly makes money”.

For now at least, the focus is on the damage to Labour, and doubtless the incumbent government will be hit harder by the general and deep sense of alienation that the world outside feels about this place.

There are mixed views to be heard amid the chatter about Labour’s fortunes. Some say that the fact that the three former ministers involved in the latest revelations — Hoon, Stephen Byers and Patricia Hewitt — are all “Blairites”, and that Hoon and Hewitt were behind January’s “coup that never was” against Gordon Brown, vindicates the Prime Minister. It is certainly true that Hoon and Byers have long represented the worst of technocratic, ideology-free politics sometimes associated with “Blairism”.

But there are at least two flaws in this thesis. The first is that other rebels — notably Charles Clarke, a man of principle, if not to everyone’s taste — have not been caught up in the scandal, and thus Peter Mandelson and Andrew Adonis are surely right to dismiss Byers, who claimed to have influence over them, as a fantasist.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

The second point is that the damage will be to Labour as a whole, not just one faction. There are signs that the leadership knows this. Anyone who bumped into the No 10 spokesman touring the lobby here today would have noticed the genuinely dismayed look on his face when describing the allegations.

Downing Street is denying claims that the decisive expulsion of the former ministers was “revenge” by Brown. “If anything, there was caution about the fact that it would be seen through that prism,” an aide said.

The Tories, of course, are gleeful. It does look very bad for Labour, as the sense — fair or not — that the party in office is running out of steam develops tinges of the 1990s.

Not for the first time, however, the only certain conclusion is that there will be a terribly low turnout at the polls on 6 May, after an election campaign that will excite politicians and journalists much more than the wider public.

By way of a postscript to this grim tale, hats off to my holidaying colleague Mehdi Hasan for getting there first with a pretty comprehensive takedown of two of the culprits.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.