Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ghost of Callaghan strikes again

With the election drawing ever closer, it is hard to say which of the three stories which have dominated the political agenda this week will have done Labour’s chances of a fourth term the most damage.

In a Budget week that was never going to be an easy one for the government, its cause was hardly helped by the revelations surrounding North Tyneside MP Stephen Byers last weekend.

The former Cabinet minister was forced into the humiliating position of having to refer himself to the parliamentary standards commissioner after describing himself as a “cab for hire” to an undercover reporter probing political lobbying.

As the headline on Monday’s Journal editorial succinctly put it: What a way to finish a political life.

By admitting that his initial claims to have persuaded Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to go easy on National Express after it defaulted on the East Coast rail franchise were fantasy, Mr Byers effectively fell on his own sword.

In one sense, he did the honourable thing. Not to have done so would have triggered a far bigger scandal that would certainly have forced Adonis’s own resignation.

Yet although Mr Byers is a politician who, in the words of the former rail regulator Tom Winsor, has an “ambiguous relationship with the truth,” there remains a nugget of suspicion that his claims may not have been entirely groundless..

The idea that he may have brokered a deal with Adonis over National Express does not seem all that fantastical to those of us who know how government really works.

By contrast with Mr Byers, Chancellor Alistair Darling is certainly not a man given to hyperbole or flights of fantasy – although he has occasionally been known to blow the whistle on his own government.

He did it when he spoke of Number 10 unleashing the “forces of hell” against him following a candid interview about the recession, and he did it again this week with his comments about the ‘Thatcherite’ scale of the cuts that will follow the election.

Given that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been at pains to underplay the extent of the cutbacks, this stark message from his next-door neighbour was about as off-message as it was possible to get.

It reveals once again the tensions between a Chancellor whose focus is on sorting out the public finances, and a Prime Minister more worried about political positioning.

Pre-election budgets are traditionally a time for giveaways, as Mr Brown demonstrated in 2005 with his announcement of a £200 council tax rebate for pensioners.

Any such rabbits-out-of-the-hat this time round would surely have got a belly laugh from a cynical electorate, and Mr Darling was surely right to resist them.

That said, by playing safe, the Chancellor added to the widespread impression of a government that has run out of ideas and is reduced to nicking them from the Tories, as with the stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers.

It had, in truth, a rather fin de si├Ęcle air to it – much as the demise of a man once thought of as a future Labour leader provides an apt metaphor for his party’s decline and fall.

But if there is one thing that has really damaged Labour this week, it is not Byers or the Budget, but the unions.

The strikes by BA cabin crew and now the RMT rail union have revived bitter memories of the dying days of the last Labour government in 1979, and are certain to lose the party votes.

Throughout his career, Gordon Brown has fought shy of the parallel with Jim Callaghan, the long-time Crown Prince forced to wait for No 10 by a more charismatic rival.

Once again, though, it seems Mr Brown’s destiny to follow in his footsteps.

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Richard T said...

So, if Jim Callaghan's decision to string out the date of the 1979 election resulted in tragedy, is this history repeating itself as farce?

E. J. Frogster said...

With the Elections coming soon,
I should send this song absolutely everywhere then? "Gordon Brown be my Angel"
This song is about rape

I just want the leadership to help the victims of narcissistic sociopaths, as they are the most understood people ever, and also, narcissistic sociopaths cost 31,240 pounds of tax per sociopath per year- a huge burden on the British economy (lyrics annotated) (BETTER SOUND QUALITY)

Brahms Lullaby

Gordon Brown! Gordon Brown!
Will you be my angel?
Guardian angel is what I meant
Will you rescue my soul?

For you are in charge
Of these people I wrote to
Stephen Timms, Jack Straw
Let me place my trust in you

Gordon Brown! MP’s!
Let me sing out loud
For what you do, for my country
For my reproductive system

You right wrongs! My right’s been wronged
I am desperate for you
Not just you! There’s Jon Herring
I’m a violated woman

Gordon Brown, help me sleep!
Help me sleep like a baby
Will my babies ever come out?
Maternal desires!
I lost my womanhood
In a sinister curse
Gordon Brown! Bring it back!
You are perfect for that!