Thursday, 17 May 2007

'Dear Martin...Yours Gordon'

So there isn't going to be a contest - the announcement coming on the very day that I (along with other Labour Party members) received a personalised letter from Gordon soliciting my vote, accompanied by a pamphlet full of pictures of our man with smiling schoolchildren - entitled 'Gordon Brown for Britain', further evidence of New Labour policy wonks' obsession with The West Wing ('Bartlett for America' being Leo's campaign slogan for Jed's original White House bid).

The absence of a contest is a shame, not because of the ammunition a 'coronation' hands to the Tories (hardly shining examples of democracy when it comes to choosing - and removing - leaders), but because it deprives us of a chance to have an open debate about Labour's future direction. Let's hope the elections for deputy leader offer some opportunity for reflection on where we go from here.

I don't hold any particular brief for Jon Cruddas but I think he has usefully focused attention on the rebuilding of party membership (shamefully allowed to wither on the vine over the last 10 years) and on how Labour can win back white working-class voters, like those in his own Dagenham constituency, who are tempted to turn to the BNP and no longer see Labour as their 'natural' home.

I don't agree with everything Jon says on the latter issue, but I find his thinking interestingly reminiscent of the penetrating analysis offered by Thomas Frank in What's The Matter With America? of how working-class voters in his native Kansas deserted the Democrats for the Republicans. In an age of shifting class and political identities, the Party needs to work hard to rebuild working-class support, rather than taking it for granted, while somehow holding on to the votes of the liberal middle class. No mean feat, and Gordon Brown will need to show some of the political deftness of his predecessor if he's to pull it off.

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