06 Jan 2010
January 6, 2010

So, who were The Chickens?


Thought I’d share a few thoughts about today’s wee excitement.

Pat Hewitt and Geoff Hoon sent out an email laying out their thoughts about the need for a ‘clearing of the air’ by the means of a Parliamentary Labour Party vote of confidence, or otherwise, in Gordon.  No, they wanted him to go.  There was little ringing ’round, as far as I can see (they didn’t ring close colleagues).  But, whatever, perhaps the most interesting thing was that quite a few members of the cabinet stayed quiet to see how it panned out. Ed Balls stepped up right away to attack the attackers, then Sadiq Khan, Jim Murphy and Shaun Woodward, yet that highlighted how the others were hiding.  The most benign analysis, and the one which served both Downing Street and the silent ministers, was that they were getting on with the job of government and were too busy to deal with the ‘fluff’ of Pat and Geoff.  I guess the moment of relief from Downing Street was when Jack Straw came out before the six o clock news to tell us; “nothin’ ‘appenin’ ‘ere now, it’s all over, just move along please’. It was all over.

So, what happened?

Well, Scotland’s political ecology is such that where there’s a threat to Labour seats it’s mainly from the SNP.  There are a lot of what folk across the UK would (complacently) call ‘heartland’ Labour seats.  MPs with Scottish consituencies aren’t best placed to judge the best thing for tight marginals in the South East.  I had emails from members in my constituency supporting Gordon very strongly.  Most regular folk in Scotland see Gordon for what he is – a decent man who wants the world to be a better place, especially for the less well-off.  There are quite a few Labour MPs in Scotland.  Labour is good for Scotland and current poll figures reflect that, for what that’s worth (ask ‘Yougov’ directors).

Meanwhile, back at the south-eastern ranch, a lot of potential Labour voters (yes, still) don’t see it that way.  I don’t have to do the whole pseudo-analysis thing here, but it’s pretty clear that those undecideds won’t be swayed by the same things as doughty, decent, public-service oriented Scots.  So, what to do?

As far as I’m concerned, in this case the Labour politicians best placed to judge are those in marginal seats in England.  Today, two things happened.  MPs like Steve Ladyman voted for Gordon.  Harsh reality this, but Geoff and Pat would say that doughty Scottishness isn’t going to win his seat better than whatever alternative is on parade.  So perhaps Steve et al think supporting Gordon is the right thing – there’s no law against it.

The other thing was that the cabinet ministers who’d held back, and of course the couple who’d pledged to act – Geoff and Pat aren’t daft – bottled.  Their (the two ministers) weakness was ridiculous – as are they.   A lot of people know who they are, including Gordon.  Not the media, for some reason.  If Nick Robinson knows, he’s not sharing. Near history will record it all, though.

Ultimately, Pat and Geoff said they way they think it is.  Some suggest that they might have said it when James Purnell did last year, or in 2007.  But there it is.

The air is cleared now, alright.  Labour faces an election where the Tories offer is far from fleshed out, less so sold.

But today’s most newsworthy detail was that two cabinet ministers created a flap in the pigeon coop, but turned out not to be foxes but chickens.

54 Responses to So, who were The Chickens?
  1. Very good actually. Makes real sense of what happened. Reading the more central observers I’ve only ended up saying “What?” a lot. You stopped short of calling the Snowflake Plotters ‘chickens’ in the craven sense and veered at the last second towards implying these were the more noble sort of chickens that ‘come home to roost’. Did you start out wishing they had been braver and opt for letting us decide for ourselves..?

  2. […] So, who were The Chickens? Thought I’d share a few thoughts about today’s wee excitement. Pat Hewitt and Geoff Hoon sent out an email […] […]

  3. I have no idea how I managed to post @10.21 and be further up the thread than 4 posts that were made earlier.

    Perhaps I am a Time Lord.

    • Obersver, thanks for both posts. The idea of English regional devolution is entirely logical, but the great trickiness is that it was comprehensively rejected by the only region (north) which voted on it when we put the case. The Time Lord post is very helpful – WordPress doesn’t allow automatic approval so I have to approve manually. I need to pay attention to the order I click on ‘approve’ – I hadn’t noticed ’til you mentioned so I do appreciate that. best, e

  4. There is a massive difference between potential Labour voters in Scotland and the SE. It’s just as well for Labour that we have devolution because a manifesto could not be written that would please the two if we were still under the one Government.

    But I don’t think even that will do it for Labour.

    I don’t think Labour can square that circle and pull in enough votes between the SE, the North of England, and Scotland.

    Which is why I think there should be separate parties in separate countries (with English regional devolution perhaps?)

    Nothing would stop an alliance between the Labour Parties in areas of mutual interest, but the union is a busted flush.

    • Hardly busted when no major party supports its dissolution, and even a majority of Scots opposes it.

      I oppose the monarchy, which looked like being overthrown a couple of times in the C18th.

      Times change, sometimes quite quickly.

      • We are potentially walking into uncharted territory quietzapple. If England votes Tory (and the outcome of the GE will be decided in England, not here) then we will have a govt who Scots didn’t elect in direct opposition to the Holyrood one.

        And we would also have two governments in the same country pursuing entirely different social and economic policies.


        It won’t work.

      • I don’t really understand how you can describe the party of devolved government as being a minority one (as opposed to a major one) but that is an aside.

      • Labour, Tories and Lib-Dems all support the continuing Union. The British state is in reasonable fettle, BUT almost anything is up for whinging, which is the sound and fury alongside Observer’s more modulated tones.

        England has voted Tory before, just as Scotland has voted Tory against the English trend I recall. At one time Scotland regularly returned more tory MPs than Labour.

        Devolution works, Scots and Welsh like it, and we shall see how the recent changes in their funding arrangements affect the policies in Scotland in particular.

        “potentiallly walking” may lead to “really obfuscating” I fear.

  5. […] in the evening suggestions began to emerge that Hoon and Hewitt had expected that at least 2, and possibly as many as six, Cabinet members would join their call for a ballot. The squeamish six […]

  6. […] in the evening suggestions began to emerge that Hoon and Hewitt had expected that at least 2, and possibly as many as six, Cabinet members would join their call for a ballot. The squeamish six […]

  7. Eric,

    Enjoyed this post last night and have read it again just now. Very good. I look forward to finding out who they were too. I’m not on the same side of the fence as you by do think that Labour MPs who stick their necks out a bit deserve to stay in. Good luck.

  8. I thought Eric’s analysis was quite sound.

    However if Labour win it will because of Gordon – if they lose it will be because of Gordon. The rest of the Cabinet (including Mandelson) deserve the contempt that Gordon has for them.

    The worse possible result will be that Labour wins thanks to Scotland but loses the popular “UK” vote substantially as the polls indicate. I believe that “38% Tory and 32% Labour” gives Labour a significant majority.

    Can you imagine the outcry from the West if Iraq or Afghanistan tried to implement the UK electoral system.

  9. […] Was Nick Robinson right by saying that six Cabinet ministers pledged to give Gordon the boot, was Eric Joyce right suggesting it was two, or were they all behind the PM as Lord Mandelson suggested (it didn’t appear that […]

  10. […] Was Nick Robinson right by saying that six Cabinet ministers pledged to give Gordon the boot, was Eric Joyce right suggesting it was two, or were they all behind the PM as Lord Mandelson suggested (it didn’t appear that […]

  11. Donald MacAskill 07/01/2010 at 11:05 am Reply

    Eric – I’m a Scot living in the north of England,running my own small business now but brought up on a council estate and only ever voted Labour or LibDem. I’m also a Methodist. I ought therefore to be one of those who have regard for the “decent” “doughty” Brown, fighting for the less well off. Instead I loathe the man – not just for personality (as a dour, protestant Scot myself, I’m in no position to cavil against that) but for policy and personal arrogance. The man who raided pension funds, who encouraged risk taking by incompetent bankers, who spent money without proper controls and who doubled the rate of tax for the poorest in society whilst keeping it at low levels for the richest (until forced to change very recently) simply does not fit your image. I will not vote Labour with him in charge.

  12. […] but his #lolplots are well worth a look. The Tories have a go at being funny too, well done them. Eric Joyce MP thinks about the chickens who bailed on “Geoff and Pat.” Mr Eugenides perhaps sums up […]

  13. I think it’s about time this lousy, corrupt government and party called an election and let the people of this country, finally, have their say. All of this in-fighting has no merit and merely highlights how far up themselves new labour(stasi) are

  14. poorbloodytaxpayer 07/01/2010 at 10:11 am Reply

    It’s not dougty it’s doughty.

    give us me pension back 🙁

  15. Yes but Eric, how can Brown and Labour go credibly into an election when the party is clearly divided and cabinte ministers are equivocal about supporting Brown (you first, no you first – last nights spectacle was pathetic).
    How will the telectorate know that Brown won’t be pushed out within minutes of an election for say Milliband like er, Blair was for Brown?
    Why should the public support Brown for PM when his party clearly has deep questions about his leadership?
    ..and I haven’t even started asking questions about Browns fankly disasterous economic legacy

    • The principal division I can find is that Frank Field is unduly worried about the likelihood that the UK pop may top 70m.

      Not a bit like Major’s time when the splits were nuclear, nor like the papered over fissures in todays Tory Party.

  16. Isn’t this like a bunch of people arguing who had the best tickets when they’ve all missed the boat?

    I’d like to know what those Scottish Labour voters are going to say when they realise that the Labour Party is bankrupt, and the banks finally pull the plug.

  17. There are entirely credible statments today from ministers who were . . .errrm . . just a little busy about their duties when they might otherwise have dropped their affairs of state to amuse the tory media by appearing on TV yesterday.

    It’s always about Nick Robinson, Sir Iain Dale, the Dully Maul & Dully Tele & the Tory Party in Fractious Waiting, isn’t it?

    • roger alexander 07/01/2010 at 9:52 am Reply

      With the news overnight of the ‘snow plot six’ it looks like there is an ongoing strategy to destabilise Brown in the same way that Brown,Balls et al did for Blair.

      Every time it looks like Brown might improve his record low ratings he either manages an own goal or gets a knife in the back from his own party.

      • Doesn’t look that way at all, does it? It sounds like Hoon/Hewitt speculated and admit they didn’t contact any cabinet minisster at all.

        Not just lousy planning, but foolish overconfidence.

        If every whinge about Labour’s leadership was a butterfly on a brontosaurus the poor creature would have been crushed to pulp.

  18. “doubty, decent, public-service oriented”

    Oxymoron. If one is doughty, why prefer monopolistic, paid-by-coercion “public” services? How can one be “decent”?

    Doughty decent people are self-reliant and don’t abdicate responsibility to the State. They only vote for one of the big three or four because of inertia and that they have yet to find out alternatives.

  19. “…doubty, decent, public-service oriented Scots”

    No, down here we’re all self interested, money grubbing b’tards who like orphan children roast, not poached. I could fisk, deeply and savegely, but honestly, what would be the point? Except on this one:

    “Most regular folk in Scotland see Gordon for what he is – a decent man who wants the world to be a better place, especially for the less well-off”

    Gordon might be as nice as pie, although clearly the evidence of how he runs his little cabal *appears* to contradict that, as a floater in the south east let me tell you; he’s just not up to the job. Vicious and self interested, interested only in his image and votes, not the country. If he were so concerned about the less well-off why did he attempt to sneak through the uber-damaging 10p tax fiasco. Presumable, as a financial genius he’s heard of the Laffer curve? Why then force the poor to pay more tax as a result of his class warfare with regards to the 50p tax rate (which will reduce the treasury take)

  20. It’s damn, not dang. You’re meant to be an MP, not a cowboy. Oh, hang on..

  21. I actually doubt there’s much difference between potential labour voters in scotland or the south east of england, Eric. It’s not about Brown, as all these attempted coups have proved.

    If MPs in marginal seats aren’t jumping on a ditch-brown bandwagon it’s because they know that the dispute isn’t about policies but personalities, so taking sides against the status quo wont win them more votes – Hoon/Hewitt aren’t offering a policy agenda for the future, but a return to the glory days.

    • Thanks for this, very thoughtful. Think there are significant differences for Scotland but see your other points. Thanks.

    • roger alexander 07/01/2010 at 9:59 am Reply

      ‘If MPs in marginal seats aren’t jumping on a ditch-brown bandwagon ‘

      Get real,they have clearly thrown in the towel, no longer care or are retiring.

      Brown is to voters in south east England as Thatcher was to voters in Scotland,actually worse in Brown’s case as all these laws he keeps on passing are not applicable to his own constituents in Scotland.

  22. roger alexander 07/01/2010 at 12:17 am Reply

    As they say what goes around comes around!

    After all the backstabbing orchestrated by Brown against Blair ,I am delighted that Brown is getting all he deserves and more.
    The Tories must be delighted that the party leader with the lowest ever approval ratings,with the worst communication skills & clearly voter repellent is left in place.

    By the way the election will not be won or lost by what happens in Scotland,at best half a dozen seats will change hands,but I guess Brown’s strategy is to try & shore up the Labour core vote to minimise the loss.

    • When Labour holds almost all our seats in Scotland (and the SNP poll rating has fallen) then it will be in part about Scots support.

      David Chameleon expects a hung parliament, and the Lib Dems are trying to stress their independence for electoral reasons. If there is a hung parliament of course the Lib-Dems may not hold the balance alone, and they may not even be essential to gaining a majority, the Scots Nats, and UUs may be enough for the part with the largest number of MPs possibly.

      I expect Labour to have an overall majority not unlike the present one, myself, despite fewer votes. It will be sweet justice in view of the utterly unfair result in 1951, when, as a toddler I licked a few stamps for the Labour Candidate in Hammersmith and we lost the election, but won the vote.

  23. Scottish MP’s?

    Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander are amongst the conspirators.

    Is Jim’s position tenable?

    Isn’t he going to get quizzed about this from the Scottish media?

    • No doubt he’ll get quizzed but to be honest I hadn’t heard his name mentioned until you did here. I really don’t think there’s any kind of link. I appreciate your own pedigree but I don’t think there’s any mileage in this.

      • It looks like alist of 6 names of Cab Mins who likley had said something rude about Gordon in the tearoom while Hoon was about.

        I wonder that it was given to Robinson as a serious list of supporters, perhaps it was not.

  24. Eric – a cursory look at the running commentary on the Times’ Comment Central Blog will give you a clearer idea of members of Cabinet who were out of the blocks much earlier than you credit (inc two before the first names you mention). It was probably also the case that some of those apparently dragging their heels were a bit busy with Ministerial business in that first couple of hours – yes, seriously.

    All that said, I’ve no doubt you’re right about those ready to jump – one close ally to Geoff and one close to Pat, no doubt. Guessing who is fairly straightforward and it will all come out by Sunday am sure…

    • Thnx for this. You’re quite right about the first. On the second, I half agree. A couple of hours is one thing – three or four quite another. Was struck by Nick Robinson saying nothing was happening until quite late in the day then suddenly claiming special knowledge about six ministers. No doubt we’ll read more in Sundays. Great monniker, btw.

  25. It’s doughty, not doubty…

    • Dang, you’re right. Always room for pedantry!

      • …And it’s ‘coop’, not ‘coup’ but pigeons live in a loft or a cote. Your jibe at ‘pedantry’ concerning your inability to use English well shows your slip, as in petticoat – you can’t take legitimate criticism. Was it ‘pedantry’ discovering your expenses slip, as in error, over the mortgage? I understand you are trying to hide that one behind the 1689 Bill of Rights. That’s more of an admission than a defence.

        • A bit daft, but worth bearing in mind that i write blogposts quickly so that they’re interesting and of the moment. They aren’t subbed, but I take the point about Coops and lofts.

      • Quietzapple’s First Law of Blogging/Commenting:

        Anyone who pulls a fellow up on his/her error will replicate it soon thereafter.

  26. It was over at about 3pm. Twitter and associated media carried not only news, but also the mood pretty well i think.

    On such occasions offering an endorsement merely can seem to make the threat – trivial from the off in this case – a serious one. I think it a mistake to draw the inferences you do.

    There was also the silly nature of their proposal, which seemed half hearted in itself. If they wanted to say “brown must go!” they should have, but this was half cock at best.

    I do wonder wether Hoon/Hewitt were egged into this by the sort of media folk who live on such stuff, and who basically serve the expat billionaires who own a lot of our media.

    • Maybe you’re right. It’s a valid analysis, anyway. Except one thing, which is that folk like me didn’t really have proper comms with members and constituents ’til well after three. But that doesn’t invalidate your points. And thnx for feedback.

      • Eric, some MPs tweet, and some blog, and some did and some didn’t from PMQs – 3 I judged that it was pretty much over.

        I’m glad to agree that Gordon is the rock in all this, dunno why his personal courage cannot be enough on its own to bring the few doubters round so far as personal qualities are concerned.

        Thanks for blogging.

        • Thanks very much for this. Perhaps the upside of the whole thing was that it’s quite likely killed off any leadership ambiguity.

        • Looked like half day coup to me, if the media hadn’t caught hold of it (LOL) they might have been headed off at the tea room.

      • Notable also that I gather No 10 took note of tweets, blogs etc during the Half Day Coup. I think almost everyone was very supportive of Gordon Brown and a call for an unconstitutional vote of Labour MPs only in the face of 97% of that part of The Party which can be readily, if roughly consulted would have looked decidedly treacherous.


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