Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another missed opportunity for Brown

Time is fast running out for the Prime Minister to provide us with a good reason to re-elect him. Here's today's Journal column.

As the date of the next general election draws ever nearer, so the remaining windows of opportunity for a revival in Gordon Brown's political fortunes continue to dwindle in number.

In the calendar of set-piece political events, perhaps his best hope of an uplift came with his speech to Labour's conference seven weeks ago, but as I noted in last week's column, The Sun newspaper put paid to that.

Still to come are the pre-Budget report, the Budget itself, and the proposed TV debates with David Cameron, which could yet see the lightweight Tory leader laid out by Mr Brown’s fabled Big Clunking Fist.

But as opportunities go to set out a compelling set of reasons why Labour should remain in power for a fourth term, this week's Queen's Speech has to go down as yet another missed one.

Mr Brown's allies would claim that, with only a maximum of seven months of the current parliament to go before the election has to be held, setting out too ambitious a programme would have invited ridicule.

But surely even ridicule would have been better than the collective "so what?" from the public which seems to have greeted this timid set of proposals.

Despite the criticisms of MPs expenses watchdog Sir Christopher Kelly, it was not so much the absence of a specific piece of legislation to tackle that issue that was the problem.

As the government has pointed out, it is not clear that it requires primary legislation to sort it out anyway, and even if it does, ministers can always resort to Her Majesty's customary catch-all phrase: "Other measures will be laid before you."

No, the real problem with Wednesday's package, as with so much else the Brown government has done, is the lack of any connective tissue to tie these disparate policy threads into a 'Big Idea.'

At one time, before Mr Brown came into office, it seemed likely that the leitmotif of his premiership would be a drive to restore public trust in politics after the spin and sleaze of the Blair years.

In the end, those bright hopes were shot to pieces by a combination of the Prime Minister's timidity, the “smeargate” affair involving his adviser Damien McBride, and finally the expenses scandal.

But this should have been a cue for the government to step up the process of constitutional change, not relegate it to the backburner.

As it is, the only concrete constitutional reform pledge contained in the Queen's Speech is to abolish the absurd "by-election" for Lords' seats for hereditary peers which occurs each time one of them shuffles off this mortal coil.

The fact that hereditary peers remain in the House of Lords at all is almost - but not quite - as savage an indictment of 12 years of Labour rule as the fact that inequality has increased.

The government paid due recognition to this by having Her Majesty utter a solemn pledge to "narrow the gap between rich and poor" - but, like all the other positive measures in the Speech, it begs the doorstep response: "Why didn't you do it in the first place."

If Mr Brown does survive to lead Labour into the election next Spring, that is perhaps the hardest question he and his party will have to answer.

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Barnacle Bill said...

The answer to the question you raised in your penultimate paragraph Paul is -
Because under the very nice Mr. Blair's leadership they had, as a Labour Party collectively, forgotten their roots.
As a Labour government this has probably been the most disastrous one for the working class, both blue and white collar, in the history of this country.

Robert said...

Browns clunking fist, problem is he is clunking when he throws a right it will miss and thump himself in the mouth he does it often.