Brown blinks

Gordon Brown, having allowed speculation of a November election to reach fever pitch, has now announced that there will be no election in Britain this year or next.

This is not a huge surprise. I predicted it here some weeks ago. But since that time media speculation - which he could have killed or toned down at any time - has continued to rise. And it has risen to the point where not calling an election now looks like cowardice. I can only assume that he allowed speculation to get this far because, until last week, an early election was what he still intended.

So what does this tell us about the main players:

Gordon Brown:

It's getting to be a habit, Gordon. There is no doubt that the main political decisions of his life are the following:

1992: Labour lost its fourth consecutive general election. The main division was between modernisers who wanted wholesale reform of the party and believers in 'one more heave' - having massively reduced the Conservative majority, next time they could pull it off. Brown was the leading moderniser while his close friend and mentor, John Smith, the leading advocate of 'one more heave'. Brown's chief lieutenant, Tony Blair, urged him to run for the vacant leadership against Smith, with Blair as his running mate. Brown refused and Smith was overwhelmingly elected.

1994: Smith unexplectedly died and the leadership became vacant again. By now Blair's star had risen and they were joint leaders of the modernisers' faction. The question was, would they both run, or reach an accomodation between them. Blair quickly formed an impressive campaign team and some of them hinted that they would fight dirty if they needed to. Brown agreed to support Blair.

1997: Within days of becoming Chancellor the Exchequer Brown announced that he would make the Bank of England independent and able to set monetary policy. This was clearly a brave decision (and mostly right). At the same time he stripped it of its role in banking regulation, which is perhaps problematic. Earlier this year Britain experienced its first bank run in 140 years. If it proves an isolated event, it will be forgotten by the time of the next election. If not, it will be difficult for Brown to avoid the blame.

2007: To call an election or not? He allowed himself to boxed into a situation where not calling one looked like cowardice, when he could easily have avoided it.

The pattern is beginning to look less like caution and more like hesitation and an inability to commit.

David Cameron:

He's done it again, and it is amazing. This sort of thing just doesn't happen in modern politics, but for the second time in two years he has changed politics with a single speech.

In 2005 the two front-runners for the Conservative leadership were David Davies, the overwhelming favourite, and Kenneth Clarke who had come second in the last two contests. Some were talking about David Cameron as another contender, but nobody expected him to make it to the final run-off (a vote by party members), despite support from heavyweights such as outgoing leader Michael Howard. Howard had delayed the election until after the conference so that candidates for the leadership could display themselves to the wider membership. At the conference we found out why. He expected this to help his protégé, and it did. Davies was disappointing, Clarke was pompous, and Cameron electrified the conference. He immediately shot from being a poor third in the bookies rankings to a strong odds-on favourite.

And then there was last week.

Gordon Brown had got off to a good start. People seemed to want to give the new PM a fair chance. Conservatives, having fallen into line behind a presumed winner started to get nervous and rebellious. Cameron made an unforced error on grammar schools. Labour pulled ahead in the polls. Brown made a competent but boring speech to his conference last week. Labour looked united and the Conservatives did not. Then came Cameron's speech to the Conservative conference. And everything changed again. Suddenly the Conservatives looked like a party that wanted an election, if only Brown would dare to give them one. And faced with that, he didn't.

For those who think the art of political speech making is dead, it seems it isn't.

View print friendly version

All information © copyright Quentin Langley 2019
RSS 1.0 Feed