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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09LONDON1064 2009-05-06 10:10 2010-12-02 23:11 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy London
DE RUEHLO #1064/01 1261034
P 061034Z MAY 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 001064 


EO 12958 DECL: 05/06/2019 

REF: A. LONDON 956  B. LONDON 831  C. 08 LONDON 2163  D. 08 LONDON 2010

Classified By: PolMinCouns Gregory Berry, reasons 1.4 b, d

1. (C/NF) Key points:
-- Westminster seethed with rumors over the May 2-4 holiday weekend that one or more members of Gordon Brown’s cabinet were preparing to unseat him as Prime Minister/Labour Party leader following a disastrous two-week period (Ref A). By the evening of May 4, however, all of the potential successors had publicly declared their support for Brown and ruled out a challenge against him.
-- Many of our Labour Party contacts argue that the crisis was largely media-provoked, because replacing Brown before the next general election is next to impossible according to Labour Party rules that require a would-be successor to challenge him publicly (Ref C). Our contacts agree that there is virtually no chance that Brown will step down on his own, and point instead to his “resilience” in the face of the continuing onslaught of crisis and criticism he has faced during his premiership.
-- The crisis does reflect a high degree of worry among backbench MPs that they will lose their seats in the next election if Brown continues his downward trend in the polls. These MPs therefore have increasingly less reason to follow Brown’s lead in Parliament on controversial issues, such as privatization of the Royal Mail. It is likely that a weakened Brown will be forced to compromise on such issues in order to maintain a semblance of discipline on the Labour backbench, but this is unlikely to have an effect on key UK, or U.S., foreign policy priorities.
-- Brown still has a chance - albeit a slim one - to win the next general election, some of our Labour Party contacts argue, if he waits to call the election until the economy shows some signs of recovery. Brown could take credit for these “green shoots,” and argue that his economic expertise makes him the best person to lead a recovery.
-- Brown and Labour are expected to suffer heavy losses in the June 4 elections for the European Parliament and local councils. Labour contacts tell us they worry that disaffected Labourites may turn to fringe parties such as the fascist British National Party (BNP) to cast their protest vote.
End key points.

Another Tempest Over Replacing Brown

2. (C/NF) Gordon Brown has suffered a wretched two weeks, during which he was implicated in the “Smeargate” scandal; suffered his first defeat in the House of Commons after a massive defection of his own party members over the issue of Gurkhas’ rights; and was forced into a public last-minute change of policy to avoid a second defeat on reform of the Second Homes Allowance for MPs (Refs A and B). The latest polls show Brown and Labour 18 points behind David Cameron and the Conservative Party; if a general election were held now, Cameron would win with a 150-seat majority in Parliament. This disastrous series of events led to rampant media speculation over the May 2-4 holiday weekend that members of Gordon Brown’s own cabinet, including Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, Health Secretary Alan Johnson, Justice Secretary Jack Straw, and Deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman, were ready to mount a leadership challenge to replace Brown. By the evening of May 4, however, all four had publicly declared their support for Brown and ruled out any challenge against him.

3. (C/NF) Many of our Labour contacts, including House of Lords Deputy Leader Lord Brian Davis and Special Advisor to the Leader of the House of Lords Jonathan Pearse, tell us the crisis over Brown’s leadership was largely due to inflated media reporting over a slow holiday weekend, while acknowledging the PM needs to “get back on message” in coming weeks. In any case, replacing a sitting Labour PM is a daunting task, since any possible successor would have to challenge Brown publicly, according to Labour Party rules. A successor to Brown would face the added difficulty of public pressure to call a general election as soon as s/he took office, an election that Labour would have little chance of winning in the current political climate. So while it is
LONDON 00001064 002 OF 003
technically possible to replace Brown, a thorough study of the mechanics of doing so explains why his rivals have been so cautious in moving against him - and why getting rid of Brown, as unpopular as he is, might hasten Labour’s fall from power rather than prevent it. (Note: For more on the mechanics of replacing a sitting Labour PM, see Ref C. End note.)

4. (C/NF) The only other option - that Brown will step aside voluntarily in the face of criticism - is extremely unlikely, according to Lord Davis and prominent Labour member Lord Bruce Grocott, with whom Poloffs met, along with other Labour Lords, on May 5. In fact, they point to his personal “resilience” in the face of the continuing criticism he has endured since becoming PM, praising his rebound after Labour’s unexpected defeat in the July 2008 Glasgow East by-election and myriad other political setbacks. This same cycle played out after that by-election defeat, in August 2008, when Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared to challenge Brown for the Labour leadership, but then backed down (Ref D). Then, as now, the crisis was largely made by the media, and was quickly resolved when Miliband disavowed any leadership challenge and publicly backed the PM.

Backbench is Nervous Now

5. (C/NF) A new and worrisome element this time for Brown is the defection of his backbench. Many of these MPs hold their constituencies by narrow margins. With time growing increasingly short until Brown must call the next election (Embassy note: Brown must call an election before May 10, 2010, and hold it by June 3, 2010), they are growing increasingly concerned that he might not be able to turn Labour’s fortunes around. There is less incentive, therefore, for them to vote with their party on controversial issues such as Gurkhas’ rights, the Second Homes Allowance, or the upcoming vote on government plans to partly privatize the Royal Mail, the UK’s postal network. According to May 5 media reports, up to 100 rebel Labour MPs plan to revolt against Brown’s plans to sell a 49 percent stake of the company to the private sector. New Labour “modernizers” in Brown’s cabinet (thought to be led by Business Secretary Peter Mandelson) are said to be pushing the PM not to back down over the issue, but the left-wing of the party is urging him to shelve the sell-off and save himself from fresh humiliation, which may completely end his ability to impose any discipline on his party backbenchers. Aides of the PM have reportedly been considering compromise proposals to turn the Royal Mail into a not-for-profit company, along the lines of the BBC Trust, a claim denied today by Downing Street.

How Brown Could Win the Next Election

6. (C/NF) Brown still has a chance - albeit a slim one - to win the next general election, some of our Labour Party contacts argue, if he waits to call the election until the economy shows some signs of recovery. Brown could take credit for these “green shoots,” argue that the recovery is still fragile, and that the UK public does not want to risk turning to a new government that might not have the economic expertise to ensure a recovery. Lord Grocott argued that this strategy gives Labour a hope of victory. “If the economy turns up in the spring, the public will want Labour in power.  They won’t want an untried Conservative leadership in charge,” he told us. The election, he argued, will boil down to the public’s faith in who will best manage the economy. Lord Charles Falconer, a leading Labour advisor to former PM Tony Blair, added that if Brown can point to recovery, the issue for voters will be where to then make the cuts in government spending necessary to restore the country’s budget balance and “voters can be convinced those cuts should be made by a progressive, left of center government, rather than by a pro-business, Tory government.”

British National Party May Be Stealth Victor in June EU Elections
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 

7. (C/NF) Some within Labour ranks are concerned that the fascist British National Party (BNP) may be the big winner in the EU Parliament and local council elections on June 4, leading Labour MP Jon Cruddas told us May 1. Given that many UK voters use the EU elections to register a protest vote, Cruddas said no one “has any illusions but that the results will be a bloody punch to us,” but what is a worrisome surprise are “the growing indications” that the BNP will be the beneficiary of Labour voters, anger with their own party, not the Tories or Liberal Democrats. Angry
LONDON 00001064 003 OF 003
Conservative voters who want to register a protest will vote for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), but angry working-class Labour voters turn to the BNP, Cruddas said, and this year there are a lot of angry Labour voters. Cruddas feared that voter turnout, especially among minorities, will be low, helping the BNP gain EU seats under the complicated proportional representation system used in the EU elections. Cruddas said his constituents are battered by the recession and frustrated by competition for jobs and social services from EU and non-EU immigrants. According to Cruddas, the BNP will likely do well in the economically hard-hit North-west in the EU elections, where the party will win at least one seat for its chairman, Nick Griffin, and likely one more of the region’s eight EU seats unless the tide is “turned” (in the 2004 EU election, the BNP won 6.4 percent of the votes in the North-west, but failed to win a single seat). The BNP will also do “better than many expect now” in local elections in urban working class councils in Manchester, Birmingham and parts of London, such as Cruddas, own constituency. The danger is not the brief public relations boost victory gives the BNP, Cruddas added, but that with an EU Parliamentary seat comes access to several hundred thousand GBPs in funds from the EU which the BNP can use in any way it chooses. When asked, Cruddas said he did not believe Green Party candidates in the North-west were viable alternatives that might tamp down BNP support, although he acknowledged the Green Party is making that argument in its campaign.

8. (C/NF) Other Labour leaders with whom Poloffs spoke acknowledged the threat of a strong BNP vote in the June 4 elections but were split on how serious the threat was. Lord Falconer dismissed the idea that the BNP would benefit from an anti-Labour protest vote, noting that the Conservatives are, “for better or worse,” the clear opposition party to vote for if you are unhappy with Labour -- the Conservatives have been out of power for 12 years. Lord Davis, on the other hand, perceived a trend toward the BNP in his former Commons constituency and feared that, in periods of economic downturn, extremist parties do well. All the Labour leaders agreed, however, that a bad result in the June elections, though disheartening, was now expected, and that bad results in EU elections in any case have much less impact on the Labour backbenchers’ views than a by-election defeat, as was the case with last summer’s Glasgow East result. The Lords predicted another round of media speculation on Brown’s future in June, but dismissed its real impact.


9. (C/NF) A wounded, but still standing, Gordon Brown remains at the helm of his party and is likely to do so until the voters speak in the next election, increasingly likely now to be postponed until the latest date possible next spring. The only viable alternative to oust Brown -- a delegation of Labour wisemen and women advising him to leave for the sake of the party -- is not likely to occur, for the plain fact that no one expects Brown to step down voluntarily, no matter how savage the media and party criticism he endures. The man who has nursed his dream -- and grievance -- of being Prime Minister since 1994 is not going to walk out of Downing Street now. As a Guardian political journalist told Poloff, “Brown is a tough-skinned Scot, who believes dreams come true, but not free, and he will pay the personal price to keep his alive.”
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