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Category Archives: Gordon Brown

Fearing the Worst – Giving Polly a Good Fisking

Polly Toynbee speaks at the October 2005 Labou...

Polly Toynbee, with her mouth in gear

Polly Toynbee was churning out incoherent ramblings again last week. Unlike mine, though, she gets paid for hers. As Guido suggests, perhaps she’s got financial worries on her mind, like so many in the real world beyond the Grauniad offices. (Was it coincidence that this came out hours after her husband was told he’d be out of a job?)

Where Cameron and Osborne have been most successful is in frightening people … However, fear can be useful politically. Cameron’s government has skilfully created a hate campaign directed at the public sector. The release by Eric Pickles this week of all the spending data from his department and its quangos was admirable openness – but mainly a crafty assault on everything spent by public servants. Anecdotes work. People are easily persuaded that the handful of civil servants paid more than the prime minister are typical and that Indian head massages are the norm.

Yes, Polly, anecdotes can be powerful things, which must explain why, having piously cited David Cameron’s efforts, you serve up this:

… the public sector can be lax, but where is a comparison with lavish corporate hospitality at Wimbledon, Twickenham or the grand prix all paid for from peoples’ pension funds? A public employees’ £539 group awayday to Blackpool Pleasure Beach is less than the champagne bill for a public company’s beano at the races.

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Nurse! Gordon’s Trying To Do Something Again!

Sometimes it is best for government to heed Ronald Reagan’s advice to politicians: “Don’t just do something … stand there!”

First it was screwing up the supply of grit during the snow. Now, in response to another natural occurrence which has created a lot of disruption, Gordon Brown has again decided to act. Oh dear. The ‘Don’t Panic committee’ COBRA has met.

So what is the government’s response to the situation where so many British voters citizens are ‘stranded’ abroad? Gordon will send in the Navy, of course. With the continent cut-off, the Ark Royal will be sent to the Channel. Well, after all, there’s no other way to get across the Channel except by way of an expensive aircraft carrier, is there?

Quite what will be done for the poor souls suffering the unbearable trauma of being stuck in places like California, Florida or Australia is unclear.

Now, what would Nick Clegg do?

Update 20/4: So, what of Gordon’s grand rescue plan? The Ark Royal wasn’t in the Channel, the coaches weren’t in Madrid, if you were in Madrid already you had to make your way to the Channel because the coaches were for people flying into Europe only. The HMS Albion ran out of space and had to turn people away. Nice one Gordon. I’ll bet another Nokia bit the dust today.

Is It Time to Lay Off Gordon Brown?

Now I suppose that title can be interpreted in two ways … but in both cases the answer may well be “yes”. Of course, he should be sent into opposition at the General Election, but might it be time now to change tack as we approach the “official” election campaign?

YouGov this morning are reporting the Conservative lead down to 2%. Much panicking and gnashing of teeth has ensued.

It wouldn’t hurt for the party to start being a bit more consistent and clear about what we will do in power. Some of the problem is that, although political anoraks like myself could quote all sorts of areas where there is a clear distinction between the Conservative and Labour approaches, to the average punter there is little difference between us – an impression not helped by the expenses thing.

The bullying issue has had virtually no effect on the polls. Is it any surprise? In a week when a good few of the general public (too many, in fact) have been more concerned with a footballer sleeping with a woman who used to be the girlfriend of another footballer, and how that footballer is upset with the first footballer and … er, where was I?

Ah yes, the point is that, for those outside the political sphere, attacking Gordon Brown is now having the same effect as bombing a ruined city – we’ve made our point. It might even start to engender some sympathy in the average voter. It’s time to move on and concentrate on what we will do in power.

If we are going to cut taxes – even if it’s just a few – then say so. If we are asked about our approach to a particular issue, don;t start the response with “Thanks to Gordon Brown, widget production has plummeted ….” because by the time you’ve got round to the Tory vision for the widget industry, people have switched off.

It’s time to move on … or we might just find out how Labour felt in 1992.

Electoral Reform – Making the Best of a Bad Idea

Thirteen years ago, with a different election result, we could have seen a new Labour government forming a coalition with the Lib Dems, with electoral reform as their power broker’s fee. Of course, it never happened, though 1998 saw the Jenkins Commission recommend an Alternative Vote system

So it’s taken this long for Gordon Brown to suggest a referendum on electoral reform. (Is there an election in the offing? Maybe a hung parliament?)

Now there hasn’t, as yet, been any large organised campaign in favour of First Past The Post (FPTP), mainly because there hasn’t had to be, even though a number of different systems have been trialled in other elections, with varying degrees of success. “Success” being, as it has to be in politics, whatever you want it to be.

Discussions around electoral reform often settle around PR, which is based on the assumption – challenged too rarely – that a body of representatives that directly reflects the proportion of votes cast is “fair”.

Yet what is proposed today is AV, which is not strictly PR, rather a system that still retains the constituency link. Like PR, though, it tends to benefit more the smaller parties and – let’s be honest – the Left, which has been more prone to factionalism than the Right, at least in the UK. Not that that is in any way the Government’s motivation, is it? By getting electoral reform of some description in then open before the election, any coalition process with the Lib Dems in a hung parliament will surely be smoother, with the possibly unpalatable pill of electoral reform already swallowed.

So, as a Conservative, I guess I’m should be somewhat wary about electoral reform … and I am. Whether an AV, STV or “proper” PR system is in place, the end result will typically be more coalition governments. Now if you believe that the best form of government is one where you throw everyone into a political melting pot and the best ideas will magically rise to the top and a golden age of governance, world peace and love and big hugs all round will ensue, then you might genuinely believe yourself when you say that a series of coalition governments is a good thing.

There is a great irony about those who propose systems that naturally increase the chances of coalition governments. That is: who votes for coalitions? If Gordon Brown and Nick Thingy do a deal after May to form a coalition, we will have a Labour/Lib Dem government. Fine, you may say, but (a) how is it fair that a party with maybe 18% of the vote decides who forms the government and (b) unless any ballot papers actually featured a Lab/Lib candidate, we will have a government that nobody voted for – surely even less democratic than a government formed on the back of 42% of the vote?

But wait … do Conservative have something to fear from electoral reform? Probably not, in the long term. Firstly, we should qualify that question by defining “Conservative” in the broader sense of the Conservative movement. It is quite possible that just as AV or PR favours smaller parties on the Left (including, lest we forget, the BNP) so it will also do for the Right, so we may well see a higher profile UKIP. Those familiar with centre-right politics will recognise that a large bulk of UKIP support and activism is essentially Conservative with added Euro-scepticism (which is why Conservative leaders would do well to treat UKIP voters as lost sheep to be tempted back to the flock, rather than xenophobic outcasts to be shunned).

Some of my fellow Tories may fear the Conservative/Lib Dem 1-2 which voters may plump for, as the electors make the common mistake of thinking that the Lib Dems are somehow in the centre, to the right of Labour. Yet after a term or so, it is more than possible that centre-right voters will default to a Con-UKIP / UKIP-Con combination. So, not only would the Lib Dems not fair as well as they have been hoping for decades under a new system (and that’s not counting what a stronger Green vote would do their core support), but the possibility exists for many right-wing ideas to still find their way to fruition as part of Conservative/UKIP coalition in a electorally reformed future.

So Which Voices Is Gordon Listening To?

So Gordon Brown has made his speech at the Labour Party conference. Has it saved him from a backstabbing from his colleagues? This Conservative certainly hopes so.

Anyway, the speech contained some interesting points.

“… no council flats and no welfare benefits available to unmarried mothers under the age of 21. Instead they will be placed in ‘mother & baby homes’. Here they will receive academic education as well as parenting classes, plus courses covering all aspects of their social development.”

“Gulags for Slags” quipped one commenter on Political Betting, with the sort of gift for an effective ridiculing soundbite that some Labour spinner displayed once with “Hug a Hoodie”. I must own up, though: the above quote wasn’t actually what Gordon said, though it would be hard to tell the difference from a single hearing of what he actually said. No, the extract is from the BNP manifesto.

From “British Jobs for British Workers” to this. Who said that Labour isn’t afraid of losing votes to the Far RightLeft BNP?

H/T: Guido

The PM Who (Doesn’t) Like To Say Yes

To be more precise, I expect he will say yes to Sky’s Leaders’ Debate, but he won’t like doing it. Then again, since I doubt either Cameron or the other one will be asking him, Andrew Marr style, about the contents of his bathroom cabinet, he might feel now that it won’t be all that bad.

Brown will say yes because he has no other choice. The trouble is, like a guilty person who has taken too long to answer a straight question, the real issue is why he didn’t just accept the invitation when the other two leaders did. One reason might be that it took this long for Labour strategists to come up with the strategy that was being rumoured last night: that Labour will suggest that there should also be debates between the top front-benchers as well.

So, in the Treasury debate, we will have Darling, Osborne and Cable.

Without fawning interviewers on the other side of the microphone, Vince Cable will probably see his media sainthood finally revoked.

Darling’s strategy will surely be to perform competently enough to keep himself in the running for the subsequent Labour bloodbath leadership race. His greatest difficulty will probably be to refrain from pointing out that it was all Gordon’s fault and that, like a Crimean battlefield nurse, there was little else he could have done. That line will, presumably, come after May (or March, depending on where you’ve put your money).

In fact, Osborne should be the only one who can really benefit – he already has to face jibes about his suitability for chancellor, based on his youth (and as he is only two days older than me, I am bound to defend him!). So with his stock already thus discounted, it would be the ideal arena for him to prove the sceptics wrong, and with Labour also now helpfully floating the unpalatable probability of tax rises and spending cuts, doing much of George’s expectations management for him, there will be little that he can really do wrong come the night.

Time for Some Courage, Gordon

So it seems a Summer of Discontent awaits us:

Wildcat strikes spread across Britain today as another 500 contractors walked out in a show of sympathy for workers sacked at the Total oil refinery in Lincolnshire.

An estimated 2,000 workers from refineries, gas plants and nuclear sites failed to turn up for work today in unofficial industrial action after the French oil giant dismissed 650 contractors last week.

Will Gordon try to pull back a few points by dealing firmly with such unofficial – nay illegal – action by trade unions? Fat chance. Firstly, a Labour Party on the brink of financial collapse needs every penny it can get from the unions. Secondly, courage, to Gordon Brown, is just the title of a book he “wrote” once. Thirdly, as Iain Dale has pointed out, standing up for what is right isn’t exactly Brown’s thing, is it?

Time to move into jerry cans, methinks.

Blaming The System

Apparently:

Gordon Brown is to announce plans to look at a new system of electing MPs, as he seeks to regain the political initiative after a week of turmoil.

He wants a debate on whether the vote system should change but will pledge a referendum on any move to do so.

Ministers are thought to have discussed an alternative vote system to replace the current first-past-the-post method.

Gordon Brown, as usual, despite any talk of principle on his part, has pulled this issue out of the blue as a diversionary tactic. A bolt-on to the issue of MP expenses which, is typically ham-fisted.

However, let’s not denigrate his Mandelson’s political acumen too much – this is a careful positioning with a view to post-election hung parliament negotiations. Although an Alternative Vote system (being touted as the preferred, ahem, alternative) is not a true PR system, even that change would not doubt be attractive to the LibDems. Brown, remember, waited ten long years for power. Events of the last two years have shown that he will do anything to hang on. Bear in mind also, that he is blind to the downright contempt that the general public now have for him and Labour (and, to be fair, politics in general). Down in the bunker, he probably still thinks that he can pull it off.

Even so, whatever the circumstances, it is time to start making the case for First Past The Post. Daniel Kawczynski made a rallying call on ConHome last week. If a referendum is to be held on the subject, supporters of FPTP will have a number of decades of quiet campaigning by the likes of the Electoral Reform Society to counter.

To some, proportionality and fairness go hand in hand. The question of why a parliament that exactly represents the proportion of votes across the country is therefore of a “fair” make-up is never even thought of.

Then there is the major downfall of PR systems: coalition. There, again, is a concept that some would never even consider to be a downside. However, coalitions are not always the fluffy love-ins that the politically uninitiated may regard them as. Coalition governments are inherently unstable (so is a dictatorship, you may say – don’t be silly, I say). In any case, coalitions are usually made up of a main party and one or two minor partners – that is, parties with, very small proportions of the vote decide who is in government and which of their policies will be put into practice. What is worse: a party with, say, 40-odd percent of the vote putting together a government, or one with only 10% doing so?

Yet there is a more fundamental objection to coalition government: rarely do coalitions appear on the ballot paper (even if you count the SDP/Liberal Alliance). So you end up with a government that nobody voted for. What was that about “fairness”?

Cometh the Day

So a day of sitting outside polling stations awaits. I have my Private Eye and the Draft London Housing Strategy to keep me sane. Yes, I truly live for election day!

Meanwhile, the long slow death of Gordon Brown’s career continues. As a long time Conservative, it’s difficult to be an impartial judge, of course, but surely things weren’t this bad for John Major in ’96 were they?

One still wonders who would actually want the job. Surely better to take over once the unwinnable battle has been fought and lost. Wouldn’t Brown’s successor rather start with a “clean” slate? To have four or five clear years of the luxury of opposition with which to rebuild the party, when the only way is up? Even in the bunker, most will know what’s ahead … and they probably know that if anyone does take over before the general election, they won’t so much be captain of the Titanic, as in charge of the lifeboats … but perhaps that is the attraction of an “early” succession.

Blairs Officially Invited to Join Tories

You know things are going badly for you when not only are the Lib Dems ahead of you in the polls, but your iconic former leader and saviour of your party’s electoral fortunes is being wooed by your main opponents.

News from Jean-Paul Floru, Conservative European candidate and (currently) Westminster Councillor is that his local branch has invited Tony and Cherie Blair, recent arrivals in his ward, to join the party. OK, so every new resident gets the letter, but one wonders whether relations between Cherie and Gordon have really thawed that much two years’ on.

Westminster Conservatives are awaiting your answer, Tony.