Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The election: what Gordon should do.

I don't know whether Gordon Brown is going to call an autumn general election, and if the amount of bet-hedging and fence-sitting going on in Bournemouth amongst my former colleagues is anything to go by, neither does anyone else. In this post, however, I set out my admittedly rather idealistic view of what I think he should do.

We already know enough about Gordon's plans for his premiership to know that constitutional reform - what he termed democratic renewal in his speech on Monday - is going to figure highly. In his speech he gave us one specific commitment, namely to an elected House of Lords, but I am sure there will be more to come.

Mr Brown has also made it clear, in his inaugural Commons statement back in July, that he sees divesting himself of power as a part of that agenda, for instance, the right to declare war or appoint bishops.

Well, writing in today's Guardian, Jonathan Freedland identifies another such reform that is now urgently required - the introduction of fixed-term parliaments and the end of the Prime Ministerial power to go to the country as a time of maximum advantage.

Freedland says in his piece: "British elections are running races in which one of the contestants get to fire the starting gun. So when Gordon Brown finally names the date, let him also vow to be the last Prime Minister to exercise that privilege."

My only criticism of Freedland here is that he doesn't quite go far enough. Were Brown to follow his advice to the letter, he would still be free to decide the election date at a time of maximum advantage to Labour while seeking to deny that power to his successors, which would be rightly viewed by the public as a monumental hypocrisy.

Brown should therefore announce that there is going to be no election this autumn, that he will legislate in the forthcoming session for the introduction of fixed term four-year parliaments, and that in the spirit of this, there will not be another general election until May 2009 - four years after the last one.

I personally think the public would thank him for sparing them an unnecessary trip to the polls, but even if he were to lose, and had to spend the rest of his life listening to people saying "you should have gone in autumn 2007," his place in history as one of the great reforming premiers would be absolutely assured.

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Anonymous said...

But it would be precious little consolation for having lost (possibly by a considerable margin) thanks to letting the Tories build up an incredible head of steam in the marginals thanks to the loophole that allows uncapped spending in constituencies between General Elections.

skipper said...

You could be right there Paul, but, as you admit, it's a bit too idealistic. Gordon might even now be plotting not just his next election victory but the one after that. Giving up that trigger finger on the election race would not be in brown's character.

Lord Higham- Murray said...

...the introduction of fixed-term parliaments and the end of the Prime Ministerial power to go to the country as a time of maximum advantage...

Very much but who's going to bell the cat?