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Can today be as frenzied as Friday?

Posted on 7 June 2009 | 10:06am

There is a downside to political frenzy for the political journalists who feed on it. That is that the higher you crank it up, the harder it is to keep cranking higher.

There has barely been a day in recent times in which there has not been a TV talking head saying he/she had never known a day like it.

So today, as the European election results come in, we are likely to have another day like we have never had since, well, probably Friday. Only, probably, it won’t be.

For the cranking to continue, the results really have to be worse than expected, and given that there have already been suggestions of Labour finishing fourth in the share of the vote – admittedly a grim prospect – that seems unlikely.

So we know the results are going to be terrible, and we know there will be some who will call upon the outcome as further evidence that Gordon Brown has to go.

But politics is often about mood and moment, and I suspect the worst mood and moment came with the news that James Purnell – far more dramatically than Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears – was resigning from the Cabinet  (one of those ‘never known a day quite like it’ days for the TV boys and girls rushing around with their Times and Sun front pages for the late late news.) Subsequent resignations have not been great for the PM, but none had quite that impact.

Friday may have been messy and difficult, and such was the mood of the media that GB was going to get written down for his press conference whatever he did, but he got his new Cabinet in place and headed for the scene of the D-Day landings.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet having been the expected source of a planned and concerted push as James Purnell quit, which never came, now attention turns to backbench MPs.

Unlike the whips, I have not been ringing round. But I would be surprised if too many outside the so-called ‘usual suspects’ will be putting their heads above the parapet tonight, while some of the usual suspects appear to be heading in the opposite direction, speaking up for calm and stability.

There is nothing ignoble in MPs making calculations as to whether they are more or less likely to win or lose their seats according to different sets of circumstances. They may well have heard ‘he has to go’ from some of their activists and constituents. But as I said here when The Guardian made that call, the ‘what then?’ questions really do have to be answered.

And MPs, however worried or angry they may be, know that a second unelected PM is untenable as a political proposition, so that a new leader, should there be one, would have to go straight to the country, and amid the current atmosphere created by recession and MPs’ expenses, that cannot be a happy prospect.

Today’s frenzy may not quite match Friday’s.

  • Charlie

    It seems that the only way to prevent Brown from doing any more damage to Labour in particular and Britain in general is for the brave D-Day veterans who booed him yesterday at “Obama” Beach to stage another invasion…..this time at Downing Street.

  • Brian Hughes

    One of the many joys of approaching the age at which you get a bus pass (even if it’ll be one hardly worth having, unlike those lucky Londoners’ ones) is that you increasingly get a sense of having heard/seen it all before. Have today’s talking heads never heard of Suez or Profumo for example?

    Even genuine crises become less terrifying. I recall in the midst of the 1970s oil and hyper-inflation one my great uncle advising me that it wouldn’t, in spite of all signs to the contrary, turn out to be the end of civilisation as we knew it. He’d lived through half a dozen or more crises that had been similarly billed by pundits and doomsayers including the great depression and two world wars. He was still cheerful.

    Come to think of it, have these talking heads, who speak loftily of Labour’s darkest hour, not even heard of the Militant Tendency and/or the SDP? Where do the media get these people from?!

  • Jane A

    I hope you’re right. I hope people focus on the Party, rather than individuals, and have a think about the common good.

  • gary Enefer

    Dear Alastair

    The tide is turning in Gordon’s favour. He is starting to gain respect for toughing it out – as the editor of the Daily said on Andrew Marr’s show this morning. The pivotal moment came when other major ministers did not follow James Purnell with a rout.

    Gordon to remain PM and maybe even win next year.

    Best wishes – the frenzy,as you say,has fizzled out.

  • Steve Logan

    The media have been proliferating the same news story for weeks now in an attempt to unsettle the PM. I’m by no means a staunch Labour supporter, but the continuous barrage of abuse that has been hurled at Gordon Brown these past few months (along with the party in general) has been nothing short of despicable.

    Perhaps Brown was never destined for a successful leadership. His success as an economist has never really been transferred into a meaningful leadership quality. But the trial by media that is currently under way in an attempt to overthrow Labour, which will ultimately happen, is well over and above an acceptable level. Let the public decide at the next general election, it shouldn’t be down to a few rowdy back-benchers and over eager hacks.

    The best protest vote at the moment certainly isn’t for UKIP, the (dreaded) BNP or the Liberals, it’s for Labour. The ‘frenzy’ as you have described is incessant and you have to wonder at what point that’s all going to boil over and, ultimately, what the consequence will be. It’s time to look beyond the scurrilous headlines and start worrying about local issues and the country as a whole – whether that’s left, right or indifferent.


  • Stronghold Barricades

    Strange how you make no mention of the booing by some at the D-Day festivities, which is surely a continuation of public feeling towards Brown and his government of all the talents

    I can forgive the faux pas over Obama beach, because he has had a tricky few days and sleepless nights, and at a stretch I might say that Mandy’s slip of the tongue “the cabinet is united against Brown” is another caused by their spinning

    I think, however, that this rotten parliament should be at an end. The court of public opinion has found them guilty, and the only way to restore confidence to the mother of all parliaments is to have an election at the earliest opportunity

  • Stuart Le Gassick


    you do get some interesting comments on your blog!! but Gary to suggest GB could win the Election is like suggesting Brentford are favourites to win the Champions League.

    The comments made on the Andrew Marr show, only confirmed the crazy state of affairs within the Cabinet. Did Alan Johnson accept the post of Home Secretary if he did not oppose Gordon? Did Mandleson agree to a more responsible role if he backed Gordoan!! Did Gordon renege on Caroline Flint? Did Ed Balls get turned over? Did Alastair Darling threaten GB and stopped him giving the post to Balls??

    What a mess?? Will thet stay with GB to avoid an election? will the country allow this transparency??

    Would Blair and Campbell have got themselves in this meltdown??

  • Jo

    To attempt to justify all we have seen in the last week is despicable given the existence of other clear priorities which all politicians should be more interested in addressing. Top of my list is this recession and the many ordinary people out here in the real world who are trying to hold on to jobs and the roof over their heads. After that I now know I want complete reform of our voting system and I want the issue of expenses turned inside out. No more second home allowance. End of. We need somewhere for MPs to stay while in London and we need to look at that. But buying individual houses for them, paying the mortgages and then allowing them to keep profits upon the sale is just not on. I would not have a problem with giving MPs a higher salary and I think Ming Campbell was absolutely right on that issue when he appeared on QT a few weeks back.

    The fact that two men, Blair and Brown, have played fast and loose with an organisation – the Labour Party – all these years and ultimately turned it into two sides who loathe each other is nothing to be proud of. Those responsible are the spineless majority in the Labour Parliamentary Group who allowed them – and their spin doctors – to do it. That so many in recent days have uttered patronising words about those who gave their lives for this country is even more sickening. These people do not have the first clue about loyalty, commitment. They cannot trust each other never mind take on the enemy together. They are hopelessly divided. What’s that old adage, “Unity is Strength”? Oh please!

  • Simon

    You’re quite correct in your assessment of the media’s reaction to this. What started with the dynamite of James Purnell’s resignation has not ended up being a full on nuclear explosion. Mandelson, more so than Brown it seems, has shrewdly ensured that potential rivals (such as Alan Johnson) can be pacified with promotion. Brown has had to make the sacrifice of not getting Ed Balls into the treasury, but has ensured that the cabinet remains united.

    Those now shouting from outside the tent, Caroline Flint for example,will not cause any lasting damage to the government. If ever there was a case of sour grapes – this is it. With all the major big hitters in the cabinet backing GB, they would look foolish to now go against him and join any plot to oust him.

    However, I still think Labour is doomed at the next election come what may. Cameron doesn’t need a suitcase full of new awe-inspiring policies, he just needs to play a straight bat. People vote against incumbents. Expenses, Iraq, and the recession has killed off New Labour.

  • Pete B

    I don’t think that a general election should be called immediately because the parties do not yet have their houses in order following the expenses problems. The number of MPs who have announced their retirement in recent weeks means that parties have not yet appointed candidates in many constituencies. Moreover, none of the major parties have yet fully articulated what they intend to do about the expenses issue (of course, the Tories haven’t said what they will do about anything).

    However, it is difficult to see why we should hold out for a year before we fight a general election. The notion that we should wait seems to be based on the assumption that there is some chance that things might get better for Labour. But there is no evidence that they will. Since GB became PM there has been a consistent decline in support. While the employment situation is in decline – something which is likely to continue that way beyond the rest of the economy – it is difficult to see how this might change. Put simply, it looks likely that Labour support will be lower in a year than it will be in the autumn.

    If Labour support is in constant decline, it is surely better to call an election in the autumn – the point by which candidates should be in place and convincing proposals regarding expenses and parliament should be outlined. This would mean a Labour opposition with more MPs than we would have if the election were to be left for a year. It would also allow us to escape the charge of outstaying our welcome and perhaps enable us to make a quicker return to government (that, of course, should not be that difficult given Cameron’s vacuousness).

    Incidentally, we should commit at the next election to call another election within four years should we win. That would put pressure on Cameron to do the same. Then, if he fails spectacularly – as I expect he will – we should be able to return in four years.

  • Em

    I agree with you AC and came up with what follows as a panacea for your ex-colleagues who must going through difficulty days.


    So the last few days have left you enraged, bereft, defeated? There are plenty of ways to physically hurt other people with impunity and few better outlets than moshing. As your body is thrashing against colleagues, enemies and constituents, be discreet but, by all means, raise your elbows around journos. Didn’t mean to hurt you, Humphrys. Oops, Paxo, did I get your eye? So sorry.

    Still angry and frustrated? Try this full on metal assault. The very Old Labour words in the intro will either enliven you or see you frothing at the mouth: either way, you’ll dance your little heart out.

    Zulus wrote, sang and danced to this sunniest of songs whilst under apartheid and YOU’RE moaning? Tsk, tsk, tsk.

    “Back to back, belly to belly, don’t give a damn, I’m done dead already.” You insist, it’s all over. Finished. Kaput. Whatev. If we’re dead, let’s do it with style, shall we?

    If your career is coming to a screeching halt and you’re off on holiday, this is the perfect soundtrack when approaching land from a boat whilst dreaming up a new life.

    For you who is staying the course, steadfastly loyal. Thank you.

    I’m being entirely serious when I say I almost didn’t include this song thinking you deserved it. Then I thought about the vampiric media and we juvenile and fickle voters and decided this nullified my initial urge. This is a song about the purity and glory of a stripped down, honest approach to life.

    Gordon is my home boy and this song is for him.

    I know you are under a lot of pressure. I know you work twenty-four hours a day. I know because every time a Westminster boy, or Edwina Currie, strays I’m told about pressures and long hours as contributing factors to extra-marital affairs. These are dangerous days for you. Your sex life is none of my business but I am truly concerned about your sanity and your family. Enjoy these expressions of lasciviousness but, please, be sensible.

    Sorry, am I coming across as sanctimonious here? Tough. As a law-maker you spend your life dictating how I live. Show some flexibility.

    11. TAKEOVER — JAY-Z
    (Warning over explicit lyrics. If you object to this choice, I suggest you read and research the lyrics. Seriously.) So, you think you’re an insurrectionist, some kind of crusader? Who do you think you are, Jay-Z? I didn’t think so.

    A reminder that what might seem like a great idea after a few drinks with colleagues in the dark panelled walls of the tearooms might very possibly be risible in the crude light of day. Just sayin…

    Since they always complain about being excluded, I’ve got a track for UKIP and BNP members and supporters. Heck, this is for Tories as well seeing as David Cameron’s views on gay adoption shows he needs to queen out a bit. I know, I know, you’re “scared of the middle place between light and nowhere”, otherwise you wouldn’t discriminate against people based on the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation or because they are European. Come on now, let it aaaaalllll out — and then come back into the light. We’re waiting for you.

  • Petter Hancock

    What a nice bloke Andrew Marr is but he was completely taken apart by Peter Mandelson this morning.
    Marr probed totally insignificant issues, gossip and tittle tattle. It shows us the how manipulative the media are to create situations that don’t exist.
    All the effort the media have put into trying to usurp Brown will backfire as the public are getting more aware of the medias desperation to make major news of issues that are totally trivial and not what the public know to be important.

  • nic careem

    Peter, what was it that first attracted you to man who could make you powerful and wealthy. A Frenzi in need is a Frenzi indeed

  • gary Enefer

    To Stuart le Cassick

    I am not crazy! Gordon brown is a gifted and talented Politician and good with money – something the public and business is really interested in. Trial by media is failing again and it is a whole year till the Election.Gordon has taken this opportunity to remove the dross and ‘window dressing’ and has a good team moving forward.

    best wishes

  • TonyC


    Where now for the Labour Party? This is embarrassing. Someone, somewhere needs to start banging some heads together. We’ve let the BNP in for God’s sake and no amount of pretence is going to make this anything less than a total disaster. I’m furious personally but at the moment I’m not entirely who to direct my anger at, except the voters of Yorkshire + Humberside.

  • tracey

    As you love your football analogies, what Labour needs is a Jose Mourinho, at the moment they’ve got an Alan Curbishley. They are such a dull, mediocre, discredited bunch, who is motivated to go out and rally for them? Compare these pygmies to Barbara Castle, Dennis Healy, Tony Benn. Where are all the characters? Then there’s the policies… Being slightly less ghastly than the Tories doesn’t really cut it any more even if it were true. I voted Green.

  • Nick

    Typical Campbell tactics.

    Its all the ‘media’s fault’. Or failing that…the electorates.

  • Marion

    Has anyone else noticed how unedifying all this is? UK politics of the last month have unfolded like some hideous Big Brother reality TV programme; I’m embarrassed how it is the only aspect of our politics that is being talked about in Europe. Don’t people know that while the UK is a democracy – govt by committee is not effective. Is it possible for the British public to focus on manifestos, actions and (perhaps) individual responsibility? Rather than moaning about a political system which is nowhere near the worst in Europe, let alone the world. I wonder how many people who have complained about the voting or expenses systems do anything more for the country than put an X in the box (if that!)

    Stop reacting to the journalistic frenzy – there is a committee in place to sort out the expenses. Comments in the international media about GB called him a ‘statesman’. He’s got one year left as PM tops – for goodness sake let him get on with the job.

  • Robin Sayer

    The BBC radio 4 coverage of the European elections was a disgrace. Every interview and every result was entirely focused on what this meant for Gordon Brown and whether he would stay or go – I heard not a single mention of policies or what any of the winning candidates would do, or stood for in Europe. There was an occasional discussion on people being disenfranchised about European politics but there was no recognition that it’s exactly this sort of bizarre one issue obsessed coverage that creates this mindset in people.
    The European parliament and our representation in them is surely important – but with the Gordon Brown fixated BBC it’s like listening to the coverage of the moon landings handled entirely on the issue of it’s impact to the flat earth society.
    I thought today would possibly be better, the BBC having tracked down some of the winning candidates for interview but the today program still hyped up on it’s GB frenzy spent the entire program interviewing on the basis of damage to GB before cutting to an all important story raised in the house by a conservative MP as to whether soft balls used in schools for cricket is damaging the game.
    The French finance minister yesterday hit the nail on the head when she said the reason her party had done so well was that they had campaigned on the basis of what their MEPs would do and wanted to do in Europe. I can only assume our MEPs also have objectives but heaven knows what these are from the hours of nonsense BBC coverage. But I do know now that schools should be using harder balls in cricket.