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So the penny has finally dropped for Polly Toynbee, the long-winded and sometimes irritating comment veteran for The Guardian, that the great revival of socialism was not coming with the Brown premiership. Brown is in what can be informally termed as a spot of bother, both the economy and his opinion polls are only giving him bad news, whilst there is much discontent amongst his backbenchers. This all culminates in another national poll, which gives David Cameron’s Conservatives a 14 point lead and would send him straight into 10 Downing Street without the need to go begging to Nick Clegg to guarantee a working majority.

Wait a second there. I was told, not just by the weather vain Toynbee, but by others on the Labour left too, the likes of Diane Abbot, Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander, Peter Hain and others all gave assurances that “Gordon was the inevitable leader, who would be a great Prime Minister”. This message or variations on it were constantly spouted in political interviews and features, aligned to the assumption that Blair was an electoral liability.

That’s right. The only Labour leader to win, not two, but three consecutive terms. It was his leadership that took on the early confrontations and won them early on; because dropping clause four and taking on the hegemony of the unions in the Labour Party were long overdue reforms, where other “real Labour” leaders lacked the courage. These were not moves that made him popular because they were popular per se, but because they were the right things for party and country. Britain needed a moderate and effective Labour government after two decades of Tory rule. Blair delivered it and his popularity reflected this. Even in the latter days of this leadership when Iraq dominated his political image, his personal ratings dropped, he still lead the party to an unprecedented third term and saw off David Cameron’s honeymoon to hand over the keys to number 10 with Labour back in command of the polls. Toynbee, still clinging to assumption that Brown is the great socialist leader in waiting, credits the summer’s double-digit poll ratings with Brown. But how could they be Brown’s, he had barely put his posters on the walls when these polls were coming through. Last summer nobody knew what a Brown premiership would be like. How could they be his ratings? All he did in the summer was go on a dinghy in Gloucestershire and tell Andrew Marr that he would deal with the terrorist incidents in Glasgow. That’s it. There’s nothing to indicate how good or bad a PM has is from that.

The autumn was the first major test of Brown as a PM and he failed every test going. He thought and thought and thought and thought some more on whether to hold an early election, to the point where everyone, including those high up in the Labour ranks thought the election was inevitable. Northern Rock collapsed and he threw millions upon millions at it before making the inevitable decision to nationalise. Ok, I could go on, anyone who so much as glances at the Sun every now and then knows this. So what does this mean? It tells us that Brown was not responsible for good poll ratings at the end of last summer, but is responsible for the current disastrous polls.

So has Brown been unlucky? The government could pick up once events are more favourable. But how favourable do events need to be? All leaders have crisis when they are least expected. The only time William Hague edged ahead of Blair was during the fuel blockages. Hague backed the blockages and argued against rises in fuel duty and was duly rewarded in the polls. Less than a year later and a foot and mouth outbreak later, Blair was re-elected with the same size of majority; Hague resigned. They didn’t call him Teflon Tony for nothing. Then two years after a million voters protested over the invasion of Iraq, he won a third term. Blair had many a crisis and each time his leadership enhanced. He had many events go against him, but he weathered each storm and won elections.

This is not the work of an electoral liability that the Labour Party fooled itself into believing: Brown’s propaganda clique fooled it. It took six years of Blair government to suffer resignations over policy. He was undefeated in the Commons in his first two terms. Brown has a spilt cabinet, ministers who wouldn’t vote for him and commons defeats in waiting after less than a year. Blair suffered regular revolts from the so-called awkward squad, a bunch of old leftists who wanted a return to the myths of old Labour. Who is revolting against Brown? Stephen Byers and Stephen Pound; a centrist reformer and the most loyal of loyal MPs. And what are they revolting over? Gordon Brown’s decision to raise income tax on the lowest paid, in order to pay for a middle class subsidy. The lowest paid workers struggling so that middle income voters will be more inclined to vote Labour. That must be the great principal that Toynbee talks about.

The more of a Brown government we have, the more we see the worst of New Labour. The spin, the pandering the Daily Mail, the unprincipled pursuit of middle England, the lack of an overall vision and the opportunism. These have increased under Brown as we watch Cameron waltz’s into Downing Street. Oh, but don’t worry because it was Blair who was the electoral liability.


Last week saw an email appear in my email inbox from the Downing Street petitions website regarding the Right to Stand petition calling for a return to safe standing at football matches in the top two divisions of English football. As any who knows anything in this area, standing terraces were abolished in all stadia in the Premier League and what is now the Championship, in the aftermath to the Hillsborough disaster. I state that, at the time, this move was right, as a measure to ensure proper crowd control and maintain the safety of those thousands that attend football matches in this country.

However, football has changed considerably since 1989 and it is the time to look at reinstating safe standing terraces. The government response claims that the all seater policy was the crucial factor in maintaining the safety of football supporters. This is a response that both ignores what the petition has to say and ignores all the other factors that led both to the disasters of the 1980s. Along with the subsequent improvement in safety and the behaviour of British football fans, it neglects to even recognise many of the other factors involved in incidents such as Hillsborough and Heysal. It neglects to mention the attitude of the authorities towards football supports, the behaviour of the supporters and the condition of the stadia in those respective tragedies.

Taking the latter point as an example, it is a significantly higher factor than the fact that the fact that the supporters were stood upright. Heysal in Belgium was a decrepit old lump of a stadium and the obsession with fencing in the 1980s were far more crucial factors in the tragic events, which are ignored in the government response. The other factor ignored is the behaviour of the supporters in both incidents. The charging towards the Juventus fans and the Liverpool supporters travelling without a ticket and charging the decrepit turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough were the inciting incidents of both tragedies. Had those two acts not have occurred neither tragedy would have occurred. Furthermore, what is rarely mentioned when Hillsborough is discussed is why Hillsborough was being used in the first place. In previous seasons Highbury had been used to host FA cup semi-finals, but lost this status after Arsenal refused to erect fences after a series of pitch invasions in the mid-1980s. A point that Nick Hornby makes well in Fever Pitch. The point that Hornby makes, after he himself was involved a pitch invasion from Highbury’s North Bank terrace. Here a surge at the top of the stand resulted in him being forced onto the advertising hordings and inevitably onto the pitch. The point he highlights is that had there been Hillsborough style fences they would have been in serious trouble. Here we have the same incident, as at Hillsborough and the only difference being the absence of fences, thus they were safe.

Furthermore the much-quoted Taylor Report did not call for the all-seater policy and stated that standing is not intrinsically unsafe. The condition of football stadia and the behaviour of supporters have improved immeasurably since 1989 and these are the biggest factors in such incidents not recurring. With these factors, I believe that we now have the infrastructure to re-introduce safe standing terraces in football stadia across the Championship and Premier League. Standing is an intrinsic part of British footballing culture and crucial in maintaining its atmosphere and thus its identity. The example of German stadia shows that it is possible to introduce safe standing terraces, aligned with proper ticketing and proper stewarding, to maintain the safety and experience of attending British football matches.

As a staunch Labour party supporter, there is another factor that dismays me in the government’s response and that it implies that they are listening whilst ignoring what is said. This is exactly the sort of act that distances people from politics and diminishes public trust in politicians. Anyone who signed the petition and has been involved in discussing the issues will be aware of the points I raise, none of which are acknowledged in their response. The only point it addresses is the issue of ticket pricing and claims that safe terracing would not reduce prices. The government cannot control ticket prices, but it can, if it wanted to, start a return to safe terracing and it clearly has no interest in the campaign. A return to safe terracing would undoubtedly be extremely popular. In the aftermath of the Labour Party’s worst opinion poll in two decades it is dismaying that an area where they could substantially improve the situation is ignored.