9 May 2006


Well, it looks like panic over for a bit. Blair has accepted that he can't go on and on, Brown seems to be calling for everyone to calm down, and now there are other stories to get gutter-press juices flowing.

But what an extraordinary couple of weeks we've just had. There hasn't been a media feeding-frenzy like the one in the run-up to last week's local elections since the bad old days of the mid-1990s — and I've a feeling it has been a dry run for the next general election. Two things are worth noting about it: first, the vehemence of the hard-core Tory press, with the Mail in the vanguard; and second, the acquiescence of the liberal press and the BBC in the Mail's agenda.

How should Labour deal with it? The buzz-word is "renewal", which is not far off the mark. But "renewal" isn't just a matter of (a) replacing Blair; (b) getting four or five 40-somethings into the cabinet; and (c) talking about policy for the long term, Compass-style. The party also needs a root-and-branch refreshment of Labour representation in the House of Commons. At very least, any MP in a safe seat who is over 60 or who was first elected before 1987 should be encouraged to stand aside in 2009 — and there's a strong case for making every MP go through a mandatory reselection process just as they had to do in the 1980s.

Don't worry, I've not turned into a Bennite: I'm just thinking Michels. Labour's problem, it seems to me, is one of bureaucratic stasis and atrophy. There is an awful lot of dead wood in the PLP at the moment, and the best way of reviving the currently close-to-moribund Labour Party on the ground — the foot soldiers who go out door-knocking and all the rest — would be to give the party a real say in choosing its 2009 candidates.

OK, I accept that this isn't the sort of thing that governing parties generally do. But wouldn't it be better than leaving the inevitable blood-letting until Labour has lost a general election and the knives are really out?

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