Monday, May 26, 2008

Brown will not be going (soon)

The Tories are arguing that if Brown is replaced as Leader there should be a General Election because it would, as Tory front-bencher Chris Grayling puts it, be "quite absurd" to foist a second "unelected" Prime Minister on the country. But in this country the Prime Minister is not directly elected. It is not a Presidential system. There is certainly no constitutional requirement for an Election, and a new Leader could plausibly argue that he should be judged on his record after a period of governing. The Tories line of argument can be effectively countered by pointing out that this is just electoral opportunism on their part, they want an election because they are ahead in the polls. Of course they do. That's not a good enough reason to give them one.
But will there be a new Leader? The papers yesterday were full of speculation: a possible Leadership challenge by Alan Milburn or Charles Clarke (could either get 70 signatures?), positioning by David Miliband in case a vacancy arises (he is not apparently considering a challenge to Brown), a deputation from "men in suits" (Straw, Hoon, etc) to offer Brown a bottle of whiskey and a revolver (But if Brown declines? Is mass resignation likely?).
My feeling is that despite the storm of speculation, and likely defeat on the 42 days, Brown will survive. The two main reasons for this are the sheer difficulty of removing him should he be unwilling to go (and the damage it would do to the party) and the simple fact that a new Leader would inherit the same problems (credit crunch, falling house prices, rising fuel prices, rising food prices). Added to that none of the possible replacements are exactly inspiring. And, for that matter, if Blair were still PM where would Labour's poll ratings be?
How much is Brown's personality to do with Labour's troubles? Well, he hasn't changed his personality since becoming PM, and when he did become PM he was hardly an unknown quantity, and yet for the first few months Labour was riding high in the polls. The problem is not, I think, his moodiness and awkwardness in public. No one actually liked Margaret Thatcher, did they? But - to her supporters - she seemed decisive and strong and knew where she was going. That's the problem with Brown. He has acquired a reputation for indecisive dithering (starting with the election-that-never-was and reinforced by, for example, the emergency mini-budget) and for short-term opportunism (inheritance tax, the 10p tax band) which is going to be hard to shake off. In the Observer Gaby Hinsliff says that: "Brown's inner circle is spending the week-end discussing a fightback. He is being urged to turn the threat of defeat to his advantage with a "go for broke" strategy unleashing ideas he has previously considered too controversial to explore - modelled on the success of his bold defence last week of embryo research, late abortion and IVF treatment". In order words, taking clear positions, instead of always trying to have it both ways (and ending up getting shafted both ways). With that, and taking the fight to the Conservatives Labour still has a chance (The Tories are enjoying an amazingly easy ride in the media (For example, the Tories criticised the abolition of the 10p tax band but don't promise to reinstate it and don't say how, if it were reinstated, it would be paid for. Having criticised the abolition of the 10p tax band they also criticised Brown's attempt to undo the error with the emergency budget. Is any of this coherent? What exactly would they do? Silence).
I have just heard Anthony Seldon on radio 4 say that Labour should wait until six months before the next election and then choose a new Leader (probably Miliband). This seems right to me. Go for broke. If it doesn't work then a cabinet coup (surely even Brown would bow to the inevitable). But its not over yet.


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