What became of Gordon Brown’s likely lads?

by Jonathan Todd

Gordon Brown, then chancellor, was travelling on an RAF flight when he found out that Ed Miliband had been selected as Labour’s candidate in Doncaster, according to Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s biography of Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader.

“Brown was seen in a rare moment of real joy, punching the air as if his local football team had just won the FA Cup, and punching it so hard that his hand hit the luggage compartment above his head with a crunch.”

Brown was also pleased when Ian Austin and John Woodcock, like Miliband ex Brown aides, were selected as Labour candidates. Now, after the Tories have reversed the public spending that Brown increased, deepened the poverty that Brown tackled, and sought a Brexit that Brown resisted, Austin and Woodcock advise voting Tory.

After all that the Tories have done, to return them to Downing Street would not just rub salt in the wounds, it would invite their deepening.

Nothing about Boris Johnson’s campaign launch made sense. We were meant to believe that it was in a crowded hall in Birmingham; it was in a half-full one in Solihull. He insists he wants to get Brexit “done”; he will have it drag on, pulling the UK apart, country-by-country, business-by-business, family-by-family. He wants to unleash the UK’s potential; that will be forestalled by the monstrous distraction that he wants to get “done”.

Of course, it is not reverence for Johnson that drives Austin and Woodcock but deep suspicion of Corbyn. Phil Collins, writing speeches for Tony Blair when Brown was punching luggage compartments, last week categorised Labour MPs in The Times based upon their feelings towards Corbyn.

“The first group, those who are favourable to, loyal to or reconciled to Mr Corbyn, tell no untruths when they advocate a Labour government. The second group are those, and I salute them all, who have decided they would rather quit than perjure themselves in an election campaign. Then there is the third group, the stay-and-fighters.”

The second group subdivides. There are: those making careers removed from party politics (e.g. Michael Dugher, another ex-Brown adviser, at UK Music); those contesting the election as independents (e.g. Chris Leslie, once a Brownite MP); those fighting it as Liberal Democrats (e.g. Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, first elected as MPs when Brown was leader); and those advocating voting Tory (Gisela Stuart, albeit she stood down in 2017, might be added to Austin and Woodcock) and maybe even the Brexit Party (has anyone checked on Kate Hoey?).

These are very different choices, but Austin was likely right when he said during his Today interview last week that either Boris Johnson or Corbyn will be prime minister after 12 December.

While Berger and Umunna insist Jo Swinson can be, this remains implausible. The best that their party can hope is to have a decisive influence over which of Labour and Tories forms a government.

It appears that the Liberal Democrat price for backing Labour will be the replacement of Corbyn as leader. This will pose a dilemma for the stay-and-fighters (who include Ed Miliband and another ex-Brown staffer Jonathan Ashworth): remain loyal to Corbyn or, incurring the wrath of members, find a way to indicate that the Liberal Democrat price is worth paying.

But it might be that, rather than risk being blamed for letting Johnson back in to Downing Street, the Liberal Democrats blink: supporting PM Corbyn for six months, simply to allow him to deliver on his Brexit referendum and somehow constrain the rest of Corbyn’s agenda. In which case, other dilemmas would emerge for the stay-and-fighters: back Remain or Corbyn’s Brexit; accept the Liberal Democrat constrains on Corbyn or resist them.

After this referendum, the Liberal Democrats would withdraw their support from PM Corbyn, possibly tipping the UK in to another general election and another dilemma for the stay-and-fighters: allow Corbyn to fight this election or not.

Alternatively, the Tories win a majority on 12 December (in which case, the stay-and-fighters must seek Corbyn’s resignation) or Labour do (when it would be useful to have as many stay-and-fighters as possible as ministers). Looking at the polls, the former appears more likely.

Nonetheless, the road to national renewal runs through averting Brexit and the road to this, pace the “Remain alliance”, runs through Labour. 50 MPs is probably the limit of Liberal Democrat ambition, meaning that Labour’s referendum is the only road to ending Brexit.

This referendum is probably where we end up if Tory victory can be prevented – which is what will happen if the SNP take the Scottish Tory seats, the Liberal Democrats take Tory seats in the south west, and the “red wall” holds in the north, the Midlands and Wales.

After the pain of austerity and the mendacity of Johnson, the reasons for repelling the Tories are just as strong in these Labour citadels as in Brown’s day. Equally, Brown’s boys articulate powerful concerns about what Labour has become. Austin sees the party as “poisoned by extremism and racism”, while Woodcock sees Corbyn as being so dangerous that he has to be prevented from “getting his hands on the levers of national security and defence”.

While we do not know what Brown’s most valued counsel, Ed Balls, thinks, his wife, Yvette Cooper, is among the stay-and-fighters. On the scenarios suggested here, they have much to fight for. The dismal experience of Change UK, improbability of PM Swinson and disaster of PM Johnson means that winning these battles remains the quickest – if fraught and uncertain – way to a better tomorrow.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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7 Responses to “What became of Gordon Brown’s likely lads?”

  1. Alf says:

    It all seems so incredible now. It really is only a few years since Labour was crammed full of Tories. What a rancid bunch of careerists and rent-grubbing landlords! The Thatcher/Blair-ism years were one long nightmare.

  2. JoHn P reid says:

    It seems incredible that just a few years ago, the commons was jammed full of labour MPs, i’d be suprised if its 205

    next month

    I can’t really speak for Woodcock who should have never been Labour in the first place, but Austin or Gisela Stuart, or left wing journalists like carole Malone, Rod Liddle or even maybe Kate hoey
    lets face facts the tors have become what labour was like in the Mid 70’s of Tony crossland, (excluding the unions) and to teach the labour party for the way they treated certain feminists who think Transgenders aren’t women, or the Lesbians or how they’ve treated the working class or the Jewish community,or made assumptions that the black communites vote Labour, Labour is gonna get massacred and we deserve everything that’s coming to us.

    as I said I know more than 40 former labour voters who were on picket lines against Thatcher during the miners strike or The nurses one or the Wapping dispute who’ll be voting tory for the first time

  3. Anne says:

    The stay and fighters are the right way to go. John Woodcock has certainly lost his way. I also think Chucka has made a real mistake in moving to the LDs. The important thing is to vote out this government – this can only be done by working together. Bye the way, Tony Blair has said he will be voting Labour – good for him.

  4. Tafia says:

    Anne, we do not vote governments in or out. Government is by appointment not popular mandate. We vote for Commons and that is all.

    The Tory government falling does not mean a Labour government this time around. Both the Lib Dems and the SNP are adamant – they will not prop Labour up. The Lib Dems will but only if Corbyn and his entire entourage are excluded. The SNP wont unless Corbyn is replaced AND Labour gurentee an IndyRef2 to take place before the end of 2020 (the SNP have no interest in remaining in the UK anymore no matter who is in power). Labour for it’s part is saying it will not form a coalition with anyone.

    The most likely outcome if Johnson doesnt win and with a majority is that we will be having another General Election within a couple of months.

  5. Vern says:

    Jonathan, public spending is higher now and has been every year since Brown. Spending hasn’t been reversed but it may be spent on different things.

    And Labour are heading for a catastrophe and its down to Corbyn and people like yourself who cannot admit that you got it wrong with Corbyn.
    You turn your backs on the workers of this country at your peril. They wont be coming back to this Labour party anytime soon. Its full of liars, anti-semites and those that spew hate filled division at every opportunity. They back Boris and his vision because ultimately they also believe that Great Britain is a great country with a fabulous future.

    Try getting out and about with people who think differently to you.

  6. John P Reid says:

    Anne ,the libdems want power, Boris is basically Blair’s first term with brexit, The libdems junked tuition fees

    If the Tories get a minority Govt , get brexit through and then have another election thinking labour who will be thinking of having a leadership election will be in a Mess, if there’s A second General election 4 months from now with yet another minority Tory Go’t , I could see the libdems going into coalition again

  7. Heidstaethefire says:

    I think you’ll find his local team play in the Scottish Cup. A small but telling mstake

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