by Daphne Liddle
TWO FORMER Cabinet ministers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt have delivered a suicide bomb into the middle of Labour’s election campaign, just at a time when the Tories had messed up their own campaign launch and Labour’s position in the polls was improving.
Hoon and Hewitt sent an open email letter to other MPs on Wednesday calling for a secret ballot within the Parliamentary Labour Party so the issue of Gordon Brown’s leadership could be sorted out “once and for all”.
Hoon, who drafted the letter, said he was acting in response to a number of MPs who had approached him and expressed concerns about Brown’s leadership.
He wrote: “Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot.
“This could be done quickly and with minimum disruption to the work of MPs and the Government. Whatever the outcome the whole of the party could then go forward, knowing that this matter had been sorted out once and for all.
“Strong supporters of the Prime Minister should have no difficulty in backing this approach. There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across.”
There were suggestions on Tuesday that a Cabinet minister might be about to quit to put pressure on Brown’s leadership — which were dismissed by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson as “pure journalistic invention”.
Later, after her name was suggested by one website, Tessa Jowell put out a statement saying: “This story is complete and utter rubbish and I have no intention of resigning.”
Other MPs have reacted by calling Hoon and Hewitt traitors. Labour backbencher Geraldine Smith, condemned “a small bunch of malcontents” and said she was “absolutely disgusted” by the move. “Do they have another candidate in mind?” she asked.
Transport Minister Sadiq Khan was the first Cabinet minister to appear in public, on the BBC, to defend Brown and stressed the importance of getting on with the business of governing.
The Tories, naturally, were elated by Hoon’s letter. Eric Pickles, the Tory MP who is also Chairman of the Conservative Party, said: “We have a situation now where every day a Labour MP is turning on the prime minister. It’s irresponsible to have such a dysfunctional, faction-ridden Labour party running the country.
As with the attempted leadership coup against Brown last June, those challenging his leadership are from the right wing New Labour extremist wing of the party.
They have no alternative leader to propose and they know full well that to change leader at this stage in the run up to the next election could only bring catastrophe.
We have to ask, what is their real aim and motivation?
Brown has been making some small, tentative steps in a leftward direction since last September’s Labour Party conference. By our standards these steps are very modest and no where near enough. But they have been the enough to lose him the support of the Murdoch press empire.
They oppose his Keynesian economic approach to the global financial crash — using huge Government borrowing to lessen unemployment — and his signing of the Lisbon Treaty last summer, paving the way for the European Union to evolve into a single huge state. If Brown were to be re-elected — or if we ended up with a hung Parliament and a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition — Britain’s entry into the euro-zone would be very likely.
Then just before Christmas Brown made a jibe about Tory leader David Cameron’s Eton background and was accused of using outdated “class war” tactics.
All this is bad news for the right-wing Blairite extreme New Labourites in the party. They made their allegiance with the Bush government in the United States and still have strong trans-Atlantic ties. They would sooner destroy the Labour Party completely than support working class policies or strengthen Britain’s ties with Europe at the expense of our ties with US imperialism.
These people have no business in a Labour party and the membership at all levels and the trade unions should call for their expulsion.
Hoon claimed that he was not criticising Brown but that discontent within the parliamentary party was hampering campaign preparations. But he cannot pretend he did not understand the negative impact his letter would have.
Hoon served as Secretary for Defence under Tony Blair’s leadership but left the Cabinet to take up a senior post in Nato, with the support of the Bush administration in the United States.
Hewitt was Secretary for Health under the Blair government and was memorable only for being politically indistinguishable from former Tory Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley, who closed dozens of hospitals.