An email I received the other day from Ghana asked me questions about the British Labour Party leadership election and about the speed at which power was transferred to the Conservative leader David Cameron after Gordon Brown resigned as British Prime Minister last Month. Interesting questions I said to myself as I read the email the other day.
Of course as many of you know, in America, it takes about two months after the election in November for the new president to take office. In Rome, the conclave of Cardinals meet for days; indeed, in many countries around the world, the transfer of power to a new leader is a dull process despite the excitement that usually envelops the winner’s camp.
In the United Kingdom, politics is a tough business and it’s totally different when it’s comes for Prime ministers leaving 10 Downing Street. Transfer of Power from one Prime Minister to another is instant, and in some cases, it’s a total change and very brutal, regardless of the political party as was the case when Margaret Thatcher resigned in November 1990.They call it “total politics” in the Westminster Village.
On Tuesday May 11, 2010, choking back tears, Gordon Brown and his wife were driven from Downing Street under police escort in a blue jaguar while his children followed behind in a people carrier.
Police outriders stopped the traffic as the motorcade approached Buckingham Palace at 7.28pm. At Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s equerry Wing Commander Andrew Calame dressed in Ceremonial Military uniform opened the car door for Mrs Brown. Unusually she and the Brown boys-looking immaculate in their blazers-were allowed inside the palace to meet the Queen as Mr Brown 59, formally notified Her Majesty of his resignation.
Fifteen minutes later, he left Buckingham Palace as Mr Brown with no police escort-an immediately got stuck in a traffic jam as he headed for the Labour Party head quarters in Victoria, finally arriving at about 5.50pm, to address fellow MPs, staff and members of the Labour Party, most of them looking like a beaten army surrendering the field of battle.
Meanwhile, on the other side of London, David Cameron was on his way to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen to ask for Her Majesty’s permission to form the next government; all of this happened within a time frame of about an hour. Gone! Thirteen years of power and the ultimate privileges that comes with power gone in a blink of an eye. Power changed hands with abrupt and unsentimental haste: in British politics, there may be no government only for the briefest of moment
It happened, for the Conservatives and Liberal, who formed the new coalition government, with a fanfare of superlatives and, for the defeated, with the first rumbles of rancour as Labour members and supporters absorbed the unpalatable reality of rejection by their fellow country men and women.
I cannot honestly say that I know Gordon Brown that well, to answer the question put to me from my correspondent in Ghana. But from the distance I usual stand when listening or asking Gordon Brown questions either at 10 Downing Street or at some press conference, what I can say is that, Mr Gordon Brown is a decent, complex but flawed political leader. One of Britain’s top Commentators described him as “a man of extraordinary ambiguity.”
In opposition and in power, he was part of the New Labour’s success-and part of its failure. Those who know him say he is a student of political courage, and that his own career was pockmarked by a cramping caution- and an appalling tendency to dissimulate. They say he husbanded his political capital like a Scrooge, but never seemed to have any to spend when it was necessary. And without any doubt, he was one of the architects of the credit boom-and then the saviour of the banking collapsed that followed.
Another Commentator, Will Hutton, writing after the demise of Gordon Brown described the former British Prime Minister as “a genuine friend of the poor,” but that under his watch first as Finance Minster and then Prime Minister, allowed “Britain to develop more dynastic fortunes than ever.” Mr Hutton painted Gordon Brown as a democrat who feared elections-warning David Miliband off challenging him in 2007, and backing away from a snap general election when he took over from Tony Blair also in 2007 and then spectacularly imploding during the 2010 general election campaign. Gordon Brown in private is witty, sharp and insightful according to Mr Hutton, but in public, he is wooden and defensive; “The most uncollegiate colleague” is how Mr Will Hutton called him, saying that Mr Brown’s taciturn moods brooding silences and endemic secrecy made him many enemies whilst he was in office for 13 years.
Today, Gordon Brown is not on the front pages of the newspapers, but how will history judge him and the Labour Party? My correspondent asked in his email. Well, there are two schools of thought amongst those who know both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and then there is the public. One school of thought claims that both Brown and Blair ‘s New Labour change Britain for the better and that New Labour was too caution and even afraid to campaign on the good it did whilst in office.
Others argue that the two architects of New Labour, Blair and Brown undermined the very foundation that they built. That they had a chance to realign the left, reshape the Labour movement, reconstitute British Capitalism around productive entrepreneurship and marginalise the right for a generation but that they wasted the golden opportunity of 50 years and that history will be unforgiving.
And the public seems to be on the side of those who continue to argue that history will be unforgiving to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour. Their case is that If Tony Blair undermined the concept of a 21st century left by becoming a convert to neo-conservatism crusade, against international fundamentalist Muslim terrorism, Gordon Brown did even worse by becoming a convert to neo-conservatism economics.
In an indirect way, one of the candidates for the Labour leadership, David Miliband, who was Foreign Minster in the last Labour government a few weeks ago acknowledge that New Labour drove too many of their people into the arms of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Writing in the Times newspaper recently, Mr Miliband said; “Labour was created in part to give people more power, first at the ballot box, then at the work place, then in the community. That must be core to our mission today, in public services, in the economy and in our political reforms. Without tackling inequalities of power, the word progressive is robbed of meaning. And without an agenda designed to put power in the hands of individuals and communities, we will not be able to expose the vacuity of the Conservatives ‘Big Society.’ “
Wow! Great statement, but where has he been in the last thirteen years; when New Labour was introducing scores of new laws curtailing civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism and crime. Indeed, one of the most profound and frustrating part for many people in the UK has been the attack on the rights and liberties of people over the last 13 years and the failure of people like David Miliband in the government to admit that what was happening was wrong.
Another candidate for the Labour leadership, Ed Balls, former Education Minster, in the Independent newspaper went one step further saying that people across the country during the campaign told him that New Labour “stopped listening” to them. He said that telling people during the campaign “don’t vote for the Conservatives” and “don’t risk the recovery,” wasn’t good enough. He said, time after time “undecided” were telling him that New Labour has lost touch with their concerns on “immigration, welfare, housing, education and tuition fees and jobs.”
The former New Labour Education Minister went on to call on his party to respond to those policy concerns whilst another calls for a “profound rethinking” of the way forward.
This brings to mind a Press Release I also received the other week from the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), head office in Freetown. As I read through the statement. I developed a deep sense of disappointment. Disappointed, because there was nothing on the press release telling me what plans or solutions the party is offering to counter the ruling government economic and social polices.
As opposition you can and must challenge the ruling party on economic competence and the security affairs of the State, but you must also offer a counter argument. As the main opposition party, it should also be able to benefit from any back lash against the government, but for now because the SLPP has spent almost three years condemning with almost no policy of how they intend to govern, people are beginning to think otherwise of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party. By Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay