There’s not a single cliche which hasn’t be deployed about today – statesmanlike, game-changing, end of an era have all been wheeled out before the hungry glare of a 24 hour news cycle which has at times appeared bewildered by its own marginalisation. Journalists hate not appearing to be in the know – and that was surely part of Adam Boulton’s explosion on Sky News, and an under-current of every channel’s coverage (the BBC’s great Jon Sopel, meanwhile, was wry and rueful about it, to his great credit).
But the day has been weird for more reasons than simply being one of those few times in modern politics which are not subject to the art of the leak. Most pointedly, Gordon Brown’s resignation – whilst primarily about securing a deal with the Liberal Democrats – is also part of the continuing war of attrition between those wings once signified by the terms ‘Blairite’ and ‘Brownite’. Diane Abbot’s piece for the Guardian is a good example of what is to come, but it is a strange day on which she and John Reid, a Blairite retired from the current clique gunning for a grand alliance with Nick Clegg, find themselves in the same camp. Both rage against the adoption of PR and an embracing of the Liberal Democrats. Other Labour figures, such as the sadly defeated Parmjit Dhanda, believe that Labour should spend a dignified period in opposition.
I’ve some strategic sympathy for this – a Lib-Lab coalition, with support from sundry Nats and Inds, would be fragile and, at least at first, unpopular. It would be headed by what the Tory press would describe – with wilful disregard for what Brown in his statement today emphasised as our parliamentary system – as ‘an unelected PM’. It would also allow the Tories to sit in blameless opposition, endlessly sniping at and forever undermining the coalition. I don’t really see how this could be good for Labour, unless you happen to be a progressive majority zealot. Nevertheless, the people for whom Labour politicians profess to have come into politics, the poor and under-privileged, will suffer bitter blows under a slash-and-burn Conservative government, whether or not it is tempered by Lib Dem influence – which would surely be used and abused only for the length of time it took for Cameron to be confident of winning an outright majority in a second general election.
Indeed, one of the key problems of the Tory offer to the Liberals appears to be its intended longevity – or lack of it. On top of PR, tax fairness and education funding, this seems to have led Lib Dem MPs to demand official contacts with Labour. Nevertheless, even in this more ideologically stable agreement, there seems little promise of truly happy outcomes. Hopi Sen might be right to opt for wallowing in amusement at those befuddled journalists and commentators…