What were Hoon and Hewitt thinking?

I don’t understand the (failed) attempt by Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon to inspire a leadership challenge in the Labour Party here in the UK.  Any serious contender for the job (i.e. Milliband) would surely recognise that the chance of a Labour victory in this year’s general election is miniscule, no matter who leads the party, and to lose an election three or four months into your leadership would hardly make for a sterling start.

If one takes a Tory victory as given, it would be far better to let Brown take the full hit for the loss.  Keep him on as a figurehead to take all the bile, spit, rage and blame for the state of the country as a whole and the state of the government’s finances and the electoral loss in particular.  Let the voting public gorge themselves in a cathartic spasm of kicking the Blair/Brown pairing and then shuffle Brown off, declare that there will be no return to Old Labour and start observing loudly at every opportunity that now it’s the Tories that are all about spin.

Brown’s job at this point is not so much to put out the fire — that can no longer be done — but to save the furniture.  So why did Hewitt and Hoon do this?  It was never going to work and it only serves to further lessen the probability of Labour retaining some of their seats.

The obvious answer is that they don’t consider a Tory victory to be a foregone conclusion and somehow think that simply getting rid of Brown will help the broader party separate itself from the Blair/Brown brand.  The first part of that sentence may indeed be true (afterall, the Tories need an average swing of 7% to win), but the second is utterly false.  Labour will not escape the Blair/Brown brand until they’ve spent some time in opposition for the simple reason that the public needs to kill it before they will forget about it.

4 Responses to “What were Hoon and Hewitt thinking?”

  • There is an argument that Labor face an electoral wipeout at the next election, and that changing leaders would turn a catastrophe into a mere loss, making it easier to rebuild. You do lose a lot of experienced parliamentarians in such situations. The use of the Lords in the UK and the think tank – staffer – consultant – commentator nexus that surrounds modern political parties probably makes it less dramatic than it used to be.

    But from the perspective of the person for the individual challenging for leadership, it is certainly not rational, for the reasons you suggest.

    I think Dan Hannan (who is obviously a Tory) is right that the whole affair seems rather half-hearted though.


  • But why prefer a small loss over a large one when the end result — you no longer form government — is the same? More to the point, why prefer a small loss over a large one when you lose government with both and the small loss comes with reputation loss as well while the large loss lets you put the blame on Brown?

    I guess there is the (terrifically exciting) possibility of a hung parliament and the concomitant delectability of the Lib Dems being able to choose between the two major parties in forming a coallition. Supposing that the Tories win the most seats but weren’t sufficiently generous with cabinent positions, we might see the Lib Dems alligning with Labour rather than permitting a Tory minority government.

  • You are thinking of it from the perspective of either the potential leader or the party as a whole. If you view it from the perspective of the parliamentary party, you have a lot of people who are going to lose their job. It’s rational for them to want to change leader to avoid that. Plus you need less of a swing to get back into government.

  • Okay, that’s a fair point.

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