Gordon Brown isn’t going to resign. Not because of some pig-headed obtuseness on his part, nor because he is deluded; but because the Labour Party simply cannot afford to run a leadership election. They’re broke from all accounts.
That goes a long way to explaining the machinations of the Cabinet reshuffle, which was, in my view at least, a resignation in all but act. With Lord Mandelson’s new 29 word title of office, and the deferment to the Cabinet on their relative positions, Brown was the instrument of his own overthrow.
Having been in France most of the past week, I returned to find that Britain (and indeed most of Europe) is suffering from a collective malady of the head. Our continental friends seem to have adopted the stupid British philosophy that in times of economic dire straits, we should turn to the Right and become isolationists. Thus, the return of nearly two thirds of our MEPs who have little or no interest in engaging with the European process.
It’s tempting to assign the gains for UKIP and indeed the BNP to a backlash against the expenses scandal, but it’s possible this misses the point. Nick Griffin didn’t win his seat because of the scandal, nor because of peoples’ inability to get out and vote; he won it because his argument resonates with his constituents. It’s no coincidence that the European seats came from areas that have had an active BNP local presence for some time now. Clearly, the people voting for him are feeling disenfranchised from the mainstream parties. That’s why it’s a mistake to simply dismiss their election as an anomaly, or as the result of imbeciles voting. The way to beat the BNP is not by throwing eggs, it’s by engaging with and destroying the arguments that are resonating with voters.
And voters seem confused.
I’ve been looking at this weekend’s Times/yougov poll results, and without having access to the methodology, it seems to paint a very odd picture.
Obviously, 60% of those polled believe Brown should step down immediately, and a majority think he should call an election right now. Neither of those things will happen, for the reasons of money and expense. A year is a long time, and it is quite possible that the Tory party could self-destruct between now and then – so why blow the wad when you don’t have to?
Conversely, David Cameron’s approval rating seems good, but only in comparison to Brown’s. More importantly, a large majority don’t think the Tories have the right policies with which to approach the coming years. But, paradoxically, one third of those polled believe the Cameron/Osborne team can “raise their standard of living”. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds ominously like a lifestyle question to me.
Whilst I was in France I saw news that the Tories have all but admitted that they will cut 10% from budgets across the board (except the NHS), and as any half hearted examination of Mr Cameron’s speeches will demonstrate, it’s fairly clear who is going to shoulder the brunt of those cuts – the people who can least afford them.
At a time when we need an open, honest and balanced dialogue about the coming years, we are doing ourselves a disservice to be focussing on the wrong things. The leadership machinations are a side show; one that’s easier to present and to swallow than the wider issues at hand. It’s time to be asking better questions than “when will you resign?” or “how much have you claimed?”
One such question is “will the Tory party once elected be a fair reflection of its leader’s stated social conservatism?”
An analysis of potential new Conservative MPs demonstrates that many of them will be much less progressive than Mr Cameron. If indeed one can describe him as progressive. But the point remains, with a projected majority of only 15 seats, this new influx of MPs is going to hold a lot of power.
A survey by ConservativeHome of the 100 most winnable seats suggests that Mr Cameron will find it hard to keep his party on the centre ground. Again, I dispute the idea that the party is there, but if a pro-Tory website is suggesting that its new influx will be further to the right than Mr Cameron, it’s worth taking note.
According to The Times, “The findings suggest that it will not be long before the antiabortion lobby seeks to reopen the debate … Fully 85 per cent of those polled support a more restrictive abortion law … On gay adoption, another potential flashpoint, Mr Cameron supported the Government in forcing Roman Catholic adoption agencies to consider gay couples (although he allowed his MPs a free vote). His position is at odds with those most likely to form the bulk of a Tory majority – 71 per cent support “the right of Catholic or other religious adoption agencies to decline to place children with same-sex couples”.”
Next year we are going to elect a Conservative government, not David Cameron, and the will of his party is going to be more important than his PR face. We should be asking if the party are pushing forward a leader who can get them elected, a leader who is probably more interested in winning than in governing, in order to win back government and proceed to implement a much more reactionary agenda than they would like to admit. Time will tell.