I hesitate to venture forth into the debate about the General Election. But I’m on a role here after being voted No.70 in the best Left Wing Blogs 2007 (and this only started a few months ago). So here goes.
I was thinking about going to Conference this year, but I decided to buy a house instead (far more satisfying). But, of course, I’ve an ‘active armchair watcher. I have to confess to being slightly distressed by all of this debate of a winter General Election. And it’s not just because … well … can you imagine getting the vote out on a dark and wet November evening?
What has been exercising my mind is this: just who is it who wants an early General Election? As a starter it’s always healthy to be skeptical about conference gossip. After all, conferences are the playground of the sadly obsessive and the professional politician. There are a lot of MPs in marginal seats. Just a matter of weeks ago these folks were beginning to think of their futures, busy wondering whether they’d get the requisite years of service in to trigger those lovely pension benefits. But now, all of a sudden, there’s a real possibility that their political life could be extended by a couple of years or more. I bet they can’t believe their luck. Especially those who agreed with the notion that Big Gord was fatally flawed. Funny how time flies.
The public – and they deserve far more credit than they often get – don’t seem to have much stomach for an early election, which is interesting. We’ve yet to see what will happen next week at Brighton but the Brown bounce is proving to be extraordinarily resilient with women, in particular, switching in real numbers. (I bet this really confounds the image obsessives out there).
In reality there is no real question of Brown’s legitimacy to be PM. The public aren’t bothered. And Gordon has it right when he says that he’s just getting on with the job. The Tories have gone very quiet, I guess because the last thing they want now is an election.
Brown impresses because he presents himself as a different kind of political leader, someone with gravitas, someone not obsessed with small talk and UK celeb culture. Would it not be a rather big dent in that image if we rushed off to an election immediately. May next year would seem a better bet – not least because of all of the other elections that will be on offer. But I bet most of the public aren’t really bothered about that.
What fascinates me is that this seems to be an endorsement of our traditional approach to Party politics and a rejection of the presidential notion of politics that we’ve been moving to since the time of Thatcher. Everyone knew that Blair was going. They expected Brown to take over and so he has. Labour’s mandate is a strong as ever.
Brown will keep the public’s confidence unless something pretty dramatic happens to the economy. It still is the economy stupid. And if a downturn pushes us into a real corner, well then perhaps we deserve to be forced into an election. But in the meantime we should concentrate on governing, on solid things, on really examining issues that people know are at the heart of those challenges facing our country and our national interest. Wouldn’t an un-necessary election rather remind people of a different political regime?
Two people, from odd sources maybe, seem to have put the fingers on something over the last couple of days. Nick Robinson is the only media commentator to have seriously looked at this through the eyes of the public. And today Norman Tebbit has weighed in with comments that suggest some admiration for the new PM. Of course, Tebbit is not politically endorsing Brown’s platform. But he is endorsing an attitude towards politics, a more honest approach to leading public opinion. This has been recognised by Denis Skinner who (rather cheekily of course) has suggested that this is because old Norm is one of those Tories who had to work or a living,rather than those old Eton toffs. Denis is right. And so is Norman. And so are the public.
MPs in marginal seats should have to wait a little longer, follow Gordon’s example and just get on with the job.
It has been those at the Conference who have kept this story alive. On Monday Neil Kinnock, no less, was wheeled to say there would be no early election. That should have been a big clue. As Kinnock said to Radio 4, if Gordon said there would be no election in the autumn there would then he would constantly being asked well when then?
If we are a party that is serious about government we should get on and govern; thanks goodness the public are rejecting Presidential politics. Myself, well I still think it is time to abandon this fiasco of government’s deciding the election date in the kind of way that is being suggested. Fixed terms are surely an idea who’s time has come.
What’s that noise? It the sound of the coffee bar politicos coming to get me