PM not out of the woods yet

Gordon Brown should not sit back and relax thinking that he's safe in his party leadership just yet, as Labour MPs indicate they might consider contesting the next General Election under their own manifesto if he continues not to adopt their policies. John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington and leader of the Socialist Campaign Group, says that MPs might stand as "change candidates" - though he also says that he wants them to remain within the party - even though this could result in their expulsion.

John McDonnel MP: socialist hero?

According to the BBC, policies would be likely to include the restoration of trade union rights, an increase in council housing, an end to the privatisation of public services, a halt brought to the proposed third runway at Heathrow, the eventual abolition of student fees and the scrapping of Trident, electoral reform and - perhaps most importantly as far as the British public are concerned - the ID card scheme.

Although the Prime Minister is looking a lot more secure since his Cabinet reshuffle and Monday meeting, during which he promised to introduce a more inclusive form of government, than he did at the end of last week when it looked as though he was going to be faced with a leadership challenge at any moment. However, the MPs' plans can be seen as warning Mr. Brown that he is on a kind of probation until they are convinced that his promises are sincere.

"If Labour is to stand any chance of surviving at the next election real change has to be visibly underway and progress demonstrated at the latest by the autumn," he says, "If we go beyond November without real change, what hope is left of Labour not only remaining in government but surviving as an effective political force at all?"

The Socialist Campaign Group currently numbers 24 members, some of whom represent very safe seats. Mr. Brown would not be keen on losing the support of these MPs as, in the wake of Labour's worst election results in history, he needs to do all he can to guarantee that voters in traditional Labour strongholds continue to vote for the party if it is to survive the next General Election. Were popular MPs to leave the party and set up on their own as independent candidates, they could well take voters with them, making a considerable dent in Labour's share at the polling stations. However, some members will be stepping down before the General Election, leaving the group weakened if new people do not take their place, and one - Ian Gibson - will go due to controversy related to his expenses claims. All the same, it's good to know that someone in Parliament still listens to the electorate and attempts to act on the causes that concern them.

Meanwhile, Blairite Charles Clarke, speaking from the other end of Labour ideologically, has said that the PM may still face a leadership challenge. Although Mr. Clarke insists that it is entirely Gordon's choice whether of not the party enters the next General Election with the same leader he also says, "he himself gave a set of commitments to the Parliamentary Labour Party at that meeting last Monday night about his performance, his behaviour, his approach, and I think people will look at all those things and make their judgements in the light of them." On the other hand, he has said that he personally would like to see the PM step down, and hints at his belief that there could be a leadership contest prior to that election. Make of that what you will.

Will Gordon realise that those Campaign members that enjoy popular support are the kind of politicians who pay attention to what their constituents are telling them and then do something about it? Unlikely - he's far too much a product of New Labour, who prefer to tell us what they think is good for us rather than giving us what we want. Still - it seems that whatever he does, we just might have a viable Socialist alternative after all, even if it is only in a handful of seats.

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