In the old days, the samurai of Japan would commit seppuku to save themselves from disgrace. Plunging their swords into their innards, they would disembowel themselves to die with honour rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.
Gordon Brown has no such honour, limping and quacking on, come what may, to defeat as the Tories threaten to capture a vast swathe of Labour seats at the next general election.
As the Labour conference kicks off, a new poll by the Independent finds the party tied with the Liberal Democrats on 23% against 38% for the Conservatives. These figures, however, overestimate the popularity of the Tories. The poll found that whilst Brown is leading the country to a Conservative landslide, if he were replaced with David Miliband or Jack Straw, Labour, whilst losing its majority, would remain the largest party in Parliament. If he were replaced with Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson or Harriet Harman, the Tories would become the largest party, but would be denied a majority.
Needless to say, few of these familiar faces will be cheered by those on the left. After a decade of wars, privatisations, neo-liberal foreign policy, human rights abuses and restrictions on civil liberties, New Labour has done nothing to deserve our vote. “Labour has become a supine monoculture wholly committed to a neo-liberal, neo-conservative vision without a single radical cell in its collective body,” George Monbiot told me last week. I for one will be following his advice and voting for what I think is right.
But a Tory landslide will be nothing to cheer. At best it will be the continuation of the worst of New Labour policies. At worst, as those on the left still clinging to the corpse of Labour for fear of the alternative might argue, it could sharpen the recession’s bite and bring immiseration to the poorest households in Britain. As the saying goes, ‘voting Labour is like wiping your arse, it’s not very nice, but the alternative is even messier’. And whilst I cannot, in good faith, vote for a party that has utterly betrayed every value I hold dear, I have to recognise that the best (or rather least bad) realistic option is to see a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party and a stronger, more progressive leader at the helm.
The only way for that to happen is if Brown, a man who no one ever directly chose to lead, falls on his sword, for the good of his party and the good of his country. Otherwise they will fall into the hands of the enemy. The poll found that 53% of voters who have deserted Labour since 2005 would be more likely to vote for them if Brown stepped down. But, as a defiant Prime Minister, for whom the top job was a lifelong ambition, said yesterday “I do not roll over,” it looks as if he will fight to the end. And it will be a bitter one.
In the old days, disgraced samurai who lacked the courage to commit seppuku were decapitated by their comrades.