Friday, May 12, 2006

Fourteen Years On

At 9:15 in the morning 14 years ago today the progress of the Labour Party was uncertain. The reforming leader who had only been chosen by the party less than 2 years earlier John Smith died when he suffered two serious heart attacks, the first in his Barbican flat the second on the way to St. Bartholomew’s. He was only 55 at the time.

Unlike many of the Cabinet that eventually took power again for Labour Smith had gained Cabinet rank under Callaghan as Secretary of State for Trade. While he was reforming the party he was seen as quite conservative in how he went about it much to the impatience of his Shadow Home Secretary and Chancellor, Messrs Blair and Brown.

There is much speculation as to what the outcome of the 1997 election would have been had Smith survived. The consensus was that he would have won after the implosion of John Major's government. This would have left Blair probably taking on the Home Office in the first Labour Administration for 18 years.

How long would Smith have carried on as leader? Obviously there would have been health issues to consider. He would have taken over aged 58 and sought re-election in 2001 when 62. He may have been happy to become the first Labour leader to have successfully returned Labour to two successive full term Governments and sought to step aside on his 65th birthday, just before the 2003 Autumn Conference giving a successor an 18 month run up to a 2005 election.

So who would have succeeded Smith in 2003? Blair and Brown would possibly have had over 6 years of Cabinet experience by then. Robin Cook would also very likely have been in the frame (depending on how his affair was handled without Alistair Campbell spinning away). Then you would have to have seen how Charles Clarke, Jack Straw and others might have faired. But I think the same five heavyweights would still have been around in the hunt and on the leadership ballot.

Would Smith have taken us into war with Iraq without UN resolutions in place first? I doubt it. As a result Robin Cook would very likely still be in a very senior cabinet post. But even if somehow Smith had gone in like Blair, against expectations, Cook's resignation on principle might very well have swayed it in his favour for a 2003 leadership contest.

So I think it may have been a close contest between Cook for his international expertise and Brown for his economic surety, with the slight edge to Cook I feel.

So if Cook had won the leadership in 2003 and taken us into a 2005 election there would not have been a concerted anti-war vote, as Cook was principled enough to stand up for international law. Thing may be looking very different now?

Would Cameron have won the Tory Leadership election, or would there have been one in 2003 to elect Howard? If not Michael Howard may have taken over after the disastrous 2005 General Election with a clean slate to try and revive the Tory party, who while they were started to doubt the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith in 2003 where no prepared to dump him while an new broom was taking over as Labour Prime Minister.

The Tories might well have suffered greater loses to the Lib Dems if IDs had somehow avoided the hatchet men. Possibly sufficient to break the 100 seat barrier.

However, as we all mow that is not what happened. One clandestine meeting in an Italian restaurant set the course of the last 14 years. Let us not forget that Gordon Brown stepped aside to give us Tony Blair, if he genuinely wanted to do things differently as the more experienced hand he should have stood himself in 1994. If he is now having second doubts about the man he handed the crown to he only has himself to blame. Gordon Brown is, as much a reason why we have had to suffer the years of Blairism as he now seems to see himself as the saviour from it.

So in answer to Mike Smithson yesterday, don't worry we know about Brown, we are preparing for the time he takes over. After all we like him have been waiting for that day for 14 years. But as James Graham pointed out at the moment Gordon does not exist.

We can take on the Green Blues we shall take on the Browns, in fact bring on the whole rainbow. We shall rise to the challenge that we face and deal with the inconsistencies of other's words from their actions wherever they are found.

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