Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Things fall apart

In a column in the Spectator, Matthew Parris noted that the press have started to do to New Labour what they did to John Major's Tories in the 1990s - conflate seemingly unrelated stories into an overarching narrative (sorry) almost regardless of the individual status of each new story. This is, of course, a desperately bad development as far as Labour is concerned, and may go some way towards explaining why they are so keen for embattled ministers like Peter Hain not to resign for as long as possible. What is certain, however, is that any degree of press latitude towards Labour has gone - any problem from now on, whether serious or minor, will be leapt on to prove that what was a crisis is now a trend and what was a trend is now a feature of the party.
An example of this is in today's Telegraph where Simon Heffer, in such a rage that he forgets even to mention 'Dave' in a suitably derogatory way, sticks it to Peter Hain for his shabby refusal to do the decent thing. Boris Johnson, writing about Stephen Byers a few years ago, correctly identified the evolutionary development that gave to Labour Ministers an entirely new feature - the prehensile buttock. Hain's clinging to office in the face of everything is a perfect demonstration of one in action. For his own sake, Hain should go as quickly and quietly as possible. Whether that would be to the benefit of Labour as a whole is actually more debatable. Setting the precedent that funding irregularities are a resigning matter may have far wider ramifications than an orange Welfare Secretary.
That's the decision Brown has been wrestling with over the last week - stick or twist? Cut Hain loose and win some plaudits for decision and hard-headedness but risk losing other ministers in England and, especially, Scotland? Or whole-heartedly back Hain and retain control over the Government? The problem, inevitably, is that he has done neither - he hasn't acted with decision, he hasn't offered Hain his support and he hasn't projected either loyalty or hard-headedness. Once again, Brown has ducked a decision - and that is a pattern he cannot afford to form.

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