At a special Party conference in Manchester, Gordon Brown becomes leader of the labour party, a few days before assuming the post of Prime Minister. A minor shock follows as Harriet Harman unexpectedly wins a closely- contested contest for deputy Leader, and Brown announces that she is also to become the Party’s chairperson
Sunday June 24th 2007
Tony Blair begins his final week as Leader of the Labour Party and as Prime Minister. Today Gordon takes over in the former role, and will acquire the greater prize on Wednesday.
The transition was never as smooth as was desired, but neither was it as difficult as it might have been. The opposition parties may still be reflecting on opportunities lost. Opinion Polls show that the long-established lead by the Conservatives over Labour has diminished, and may even have been wiped out.
From a great distance, darkly
I caught a glimpse of the final twists in the drama from a hotel room in Munich. A last minute break dot com had sold us on a quick visit to a city now emerging with some dignity from its darkest historical period.
The distance had some benefit. I could not take soundings of what the pundits were saying and writing, and had to make up my mind on the occasion, and its implications.
The first shock
Why was the camera switching from a lip-lickingly happy Brown to a gently glowing Harriet Harman? Got it. She must have won the election as deputy leader of the party. This turned out to be the case. This is thanks to the complicated transferrable vote process through which she just edged out the bookies’ favorite, Alan Johnson. Gordon invites her to join him centre stage.
The shock was his announcement that the post of deputy leader would be combined with that of party chair(person). Harriet scoops the jackpot (if you can call it that).
Harriet? I tried to remember how she had fared in the seven weeks of campaigning. An outsider with the bookies. Nothing particular in the curious Newsnight hustings with the six candidates. On the other hand, I had also noted her vivid metaphor, likening herself to Radio Two to Gordon Brown’s Radio Four, light and serious broadcasters respectively.
The speech will be analysed to death. Overall first impression: The about-to-be Prime Minister has produced a rather rich dish. It seems to have been condensed into its eventual format, in contrast to Tony Blair’s recent offerings, which seem to have been whipped up from rather lighter ingredients.
‘I know a lot of you [in and beyond the Party faithful] don’t trust me, yet’ he appeared to be saying ‘but I’m going to show you why that will change’. He spoke of winning hearts and minds. Also of The Health Service, The Middle East, Poverty, and Social Responsibility. The social commitment expressed with a rather muted delivery reminded me of grainy recordings of an earlier Prime Minster, Clement Atlee, captured sixty years earlier.
Coming down to earth
The flight to Manchester was unusually bumpy. On approach, we could glimpse newly-created finger lakes through grizzly grey clouds. There’s a bit of catching-up to do.
On the ground
Non-stop news summary from taxi-driver confirms that there has been very bad flooding but your house will be OK because the worse is over there in Yorkshire. He follows the official taxi-driver Union view that the ceaseless political news is even worse than the flooding and who ever gets elected it won’t make any difference and so on. And no one was doing anything about immigration. I said that if he was older he would be a grumpy old man. He replied that he was only grumpy in his cab, but he was in his cab ten or twelve hours every day. And the sort of people he had to deal with would make the Pope grumpy.
Susan cleverly moves the discussion on, suspecting she would have to endure a debate on whether being Pope was more likely to make you grumpy than being a taxi-driver.