Friday, 1 May 2009

A letter to Charles Clarke

Dear Mr Clarke

It will not surprise you to learn that I am no supporter of your politics; so why am I writing to beg to put your name forward, by whatever means possible, to lead the Labour party?

Is it because I believe that a contest would trigger an immediate election? No. As much as I would like to replace the bunker brigade with an elected Government, I am not sure that an election would automatically follow. With luck we will find out, but that is not the reason for my request and it shouldn’t figure in your thinking either.

Is it because I believe you would make a better leader than Gordon Brown? On a political level I don’t. I detest your policies and I would cheerfully see you thrown out of office for one tenth of what you did in your time as Minister. Gordon Brown is the finest political asset the conservative party could have, and keeping him increases the chance of a massive majority for Cameron. But political advantage is not the reason for my request, and nor should it be a factor in your decision.

I am writing because I think you (and others like you) have a more important public role, a duty which transcends politics. I am writing because I believe that – by challenging - you can rally the more honourable members of the Parliamentary Labour party into an effective opposition before electoral disaster overtakes them. Some of those in marginal seats may even be able to retain them.

And most of all I am writing to you because this week’s events demonstrate that there is honour on the Labour benches and, to me, that provides a shred of hope for the future of British Politics.

Parliamentary democracy requires effective opposition. It is the safety valve which prevents power overreaching itself. At it's best it is the elected conscience of the Government of the day. Without it, members of the Executive become intoxicated – believing more and more in their own propaganda until, like the Emperor in the nursery rhyme, they are ultimately the sole remaining subscribers to their own deceits. That is what we see today in Downing St. and history may yet trace it back to the disastrous state of the Tory party in the years following 1997.

Gordon Brown and his people do not, cannot, understand the contempt in which they are held by the public at large. They rail at the criticism directed at them on the internet as if it were unrepresentative or unfair. At the extreme, they allude to some invisible right wing hand as if control were the pre-requisite of free speech. As sure as day follows night, each carefully planned fight-back fails - from the grotesque parody of independence that was LabourList to the ridiculous YouTube broadcast on expenses. And with each failure, we see and sense the familiar attempts to spin, to take credit, to salami slice and to evade responsibility.

In the face of defeats on the Ghurkhas and Expenses we are met not by humility but by self-justification and even now by the delusional Liam Byrne attempting to spin defeat as a “victory for firm government”. How stupid does he think we are? The corrosion of trust is such that, even if by some miracle the economy recovers quickly, the electorate will not thank this Government for it.

To Gordon Brown, truth is whatever he can get people to believe for the time being. The “right thing” is anything which justifies his decisions – and apologies are for those who get caught, rather than those who screw up. This is no basis for Government, and every single Labour MP knows that the electorate will tell him so as soon as they get the chance.

The true question is whether we will have the benefit of an effective opposition following the election, or a train wreck on the scale of the Tories in 1997. The behaviour of this Government in its final years of office has been bad enough. To hide below the parapet for personal and political reasons, whilst those in the bunker proceed towards their inevitable destiny would write a final chapter in the history of New Labour which it’s more honourable supporters do not deserve.

Senior figures such as yourself have an opportunity to prevent that, to put aside the selfish calculations of support and counter-support, and to hoist a banner around which honourable MP’s can rally. Together with them, you can demonstrate - faster and more certainly than expense reform ever could - that it is Public interest and not self-advancement that forms the hearbeat of the Labour movement.

Please do not shirk this chance.



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