Saturday, January 03, 2009

Will Gordon survive 2009?

Could Gordon Brown yet stand down before the next election? It's possible. Here's my "Preview of the Year" column from today's Journal.

Chelsea will regain the Premiership title, the Man Booker Prize will be won by a book about India, Kate Winslet will win an Oscar, King Kev will not return to St James’ Park, and it will snow in April.

Next to UK politics, sport, award ceremonies and the British weather are relatively easy things to predict these days.

But what will the next 12 months hold for Messrs Brown, Cameron, Clegg and Co after a year in which expecting the unexpected became the only real political certainty?

Will 2009 be equally unpredictable – or will we see politics start to return to something approaching “normality?” Well, here are four consequential predictions for how I think the political year could pan out.

Firstly, the recession will deepen in the first half of the year, with soaring levels of unemployment, house repossessions and the number of firms going bust.

Secondly, the political standing of Gordon Brown and Labour, having recovered over the course of 2008, will again start to deteriorate.

Thirdly, the soul-searching will begin again as to whether Mr Brown should lead Labour into the next General Election and whether it would not be better if he stood down with dignity before then.

Fourthly, the outcome of this renewed bout of internal Labour navel-gazing will depend utterly on whether there is any evidence of recovery by the end of the year which could give the party a fighting chance in a 2010 election.

Of these four assertions, the most contentious is probably the second one.

That the recession is going to get worse is something which almost all economists agree upon. However not all political commentators agree that this will necessarily lead to a deterioration in the government’s political position

To suggest that it will do represents a departure from the 2008 “media narrative” of Gordon Brown as the “comeback kid,” defying the normal laws of political gravity by appearing to thrive on economic bad news.

But a new year often heralds a reappraisal, and to my mind, the sheer glut of economic bad news on the way suggests it will be hard for Labour’s recovery to be maintained.

No doubt some readers will already be wondering why I think the economy will cause the political tide to turn against Mr Brown in 2009 when it manifestly failed to do so in 2008.

Well, I think what it boils down to is the impact of what some have termed “the real economy” on voting intentions.

The 2008 crisis was effectively about banks refusing to lend to eachother and credit drying up, and Mr Brown was generally applauded for the way in which he tried to tackle this.

This year, though, the outworkings of the downturn will be much more immediately and keenly felt in peoples’ lives, and the level of anger directed at the government will increase as a result.

There is also the point that support for Mr Brown to tackle the economic crisis may still not translate into real votes for Labour when it comes to placing crosses on ballot papers.

As I wrote last year, the prevailing public mood towards him may very well be a case of: “We want you to stay to sort out this mess – and then we want you to go.”

It follows from my predictions that I don’t think Mr Brown is going to give the voters the chance to kick him out any time in 2009.

Indeed, if Mr Brown had been considering a 2009 election as an option, I think the decision will be very soon taken out of his hands by the wave of redundancies and bankruptcies in the offing.

There are, at least, some European elections coming up in June, and these are likely to be dire for the Prime Minister.

A combination of protest voting over the economy coupled with residual anger among some voters over the refusal to allow a referendum on the European constitution could prove a lethal cocktail for Labour.

It will add fuel to the new media narrative that Mr Brown and Labour are on the way down again and that the “Second Brown Bounce” has finally come to an end.

It is likely to herald a second successive summer of Labour leadership plotting, although whether South Shields MP David Miliband will dip his toes into the water again after last year’s abortive coup remains to be seen.

To retain the confidence of his party Mr Brown will need some economic good news as he goes into the autumn conference season – some demonstrable sign that he has started to turn things around again.

But what if the light at the end of the tunnel fails to appear? What if by that stage it has become clear that Labour is heading for a defeat as cataclysmic as 1997 was for the Tories?

Well, I have felt in my bones for some time that if Mr Brown reaches the point where he concludes Labour cannot win with him as leader, he will stand aside.

Everything in his character points to it – most notably his intense risk-aversion in relation to his own career coupled with his intense loyalty to the party.

The other two main party leaders seem safe for the time being. David Cameron may have failed to establish himself as a Prime Minister in waiting, but the polls are still running in his favour and his party will give him at least one shot at glory.

And Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will become an increasingly significant figure as the two big parties court his support in the event of a hung Parliament.

But as for Mr Brown….I think it is at least possible that by this time next year he will have announced he is not contesting the election, and that Labour will fight under a new leader to be elected early in 2010.

As ever, it will all come down to “the economy, stupid.”

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Barnacle Bill said...

A very astute posting Paul.
2008 was the year of the technical economic down turn, people knew about it, but it had not yet hit the High Street.
Whereas 2009 will be the year when it does begin to affect the ordinary voter, in a way they had least thought it would, it will get very personal.
Something GB & AD will be unable to hide from ordinary voters.
As for GB, I think he will bottle it once again, probably got a nice little earner lined up at the IMF or somewhere.
Anyway all the best for 2009 Paul.


There will be more knives aimed between Gordie's shoulder blades than when Caesar had a bad in the Roman senate.

Diablo said...

"A combination of protest voting over the economy coupled with residual anger among some voters over the refusal to allow a referendum on the European constitution could prove a lethal cocktail for Labour."

Well said, Paul - and I would add that I hope the lethal cocktail proves to be the end of this toxic government and the demise of the Labour Party.

They have done more damage to this country in the past 12 years than even I could have imagined. It will take a generation to get us back on track.

Dirty Euro said...

I would be suprised if labour or the PM fell again. My reasons are in order of importance ;
1. 10 p tax rate issue has been diffused.
2. Mandy is back and he is the best politcial operator around. Who can turn bad news to good news.
3. The tories shadow chancellor has been badly wounded but is not able to be fired as he is seen as too close to the leader.
4. The PM has built up more composure, and is an experienced leader now rather than newbee like he was last year.
5. The european elections are always bad results. If the UKIP do well it brings the tory vote down too.
6. If labour do badly who would want the job of being PM for 8 months. Only people who it would be no point in putting in charge, as they would do worse then the present leader. Would Milliband want to be an 8 month PM, who lost a landslide. Or wait for nest time. Is there any point in swapping the present leader for Straw or someone like Hutton. Not really.

I think the PM has to fight the next election whether he likes it or not. Milliband would not want to be a British Kim Campbell. He will wait till after an election defeat rather than before one.

Alfie said...

Sorry Paul - I couldn't even get past the first line of your preview without disagreeing with you... I mean 'Chelsea' to win the Premiership?

This season, it is the mighty red men who will triumph. With players like Stevie Gee, 'Nando, Carra, Mashc', Pepe - and managed by the studious Raffster - how can we fail?.....

(I have had a 10 quid bet with a bitter and deluded Man U fan (are there any other kinds?) since the start of the season, and let's just say, he is beginning to get a bit worried)....

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