I don’t know what Gordon Brown thought he had to laugh about. His childish chuckling at the Conservatives yesterday as Alistair Darling announced the government’s new policy on inheritance tax was a depressing sight to behold. Can he not just stick to looking dour? It was the shamelessness that so grated; it was always pretty obvious once the Tories had received a boost in the polls with their proposal to raise the inheritance tax threshold that Labour would respond in some way; but the following week? It was all about as subtle as a brick. Fortunately, the sneering response from George Osborne on the opposition benches soon shook me awake; I can never hate Labour as much as I ought whenever I’m reminded what the alternative is.
Yes, I have “a plague o’ all your houses” feeling this week, I think that is the only sensible reaction to yesterday’s announcements, and to the previous week’s shenanigans over the election that wasn’t; which gives an extra added reason to avoid blogs like Iain Dale’s and similar, and reminds me why I tend to give them a wide berth. What has happened recently should give further cause for despair at the nature of politics itself, not mirth-filled glee at having put one over the opposition. It highlights the difference between “political blogs” and “blogs about politics”, as Paulie mentioned last week. We all have our particular viewpoints and biases and it can be interesting to read the writings of someone whose opinions don’t chime with our own, but this week has starkly shown why I avoid those blogs that have a party political axe to grind; they seem completely out of touch, not to be trusted, and while the popular ones may be hugely popular, it is a popularity based on a worthless political tribalism.
But I’m not interested in political blogs. Time and tide (and in the case of the Tory blogs the inevitable Conservative government at some point) will make them disappear up their own arses. Political blogs, like the Westminster village gossip they prattle on about, are ultimately irrelevant. No it’s politics itself I want to talk about, because politics is important, no matter how hard our politicians try to debase it.
Let me deal with Gordon Brown’s faults first, because they are fairly obvious. Bringing forward government announcements, especially the troop “reductions” during the Tory party conference, was as cynical as you can get, and was bound to stoke speculation about an early election. It was spin, of course, and really bad, contemptuous spin at that; so transparent that Brown must really have a low opinion of the British public to think we wouldn’t see through it right away. That it has backfired so beautifully is justice in action. To then play down the importance of the recent opinion polls in the decision not to hold an election, to claim he would still have comfortably won in the marginal constituencies in spite of all the evidence, and to wibble on about not going to the country now because he wants to show the nation his “vision”; enough already.
But if Brown is full of shit, what about the Tories? They have had a pretty easy ride recently as everyone from Conservative bloggers to newspaper leader writers have stuck the boot into Brown, but I mean honestly; all that guff praising Cameron’s autocue-free speech at his party conference overshadowed the hypocritical, vacuous and content-free flim-flammery of the speech itself; the demand for a general election they clearly didn’t want to fight is as disingenuous a declaration as any (Cameron’s shout of “we will fight, Britain will win” must be the most enthusiastically received defeatist rallying cry in history); the fact that in trying to goad Brown into calling an election let’s not forget they were in effect trying to goad him into making a decision based purely on opportunism and self-interest; and to then criticise his decision not to go down that path and to reiterate the party line that Brown had bottled it is to ignore the simple point, obvious in any dispassionate reading of the situation, that Brown just made the correct, common sense decision.
I think that last point bears further consideration. Brown didn’t have to call an election; that he thought about it when opinion polls showed Labour having such a huge lead over the Tories – and when he must have wondered if he would ever again have it as good – is only human. That he then decided against it when the poll lead either closed or disappeared is just the sensible thing to do; to have pressed on with an election he didn’t have to call under such circumstances would have been utterly stupid, and the fact that he can be criticised as being a coward because he refused to do the stupid thing shows how crap party politics is, where saving face is more important than good judgement. That making the right decision can be so criticised is because spin is so endemic to politics, but what to do? Spin is endemic, full stop. If politics is to reform itself where is it to get its inspiration from; from business? But the PM of the UK is no different from any CEO of a PLC in this regard, spin is everywhere we look from government announcements to company press releases. There is a reason why each firm’s in-house magazine is referred to by its employees as Pravda.
Talking of which, I’m not letting the media off the hook either. No doubt there were briefings by senior politicians hinting at an election to come and that this helped build election fever, but the media really doesn’t need any assistance. It was largely the Labour lead in the opinion polls that allowed the media to lose their heads completely and crank up the hype; for them to now blame the politicians for spinning is a bit rich, and it’s not for the first time. More and more it seems that the media are very quick to point the finger at others, when really a degree of introspection is in order (the Madeleine McCann story is a case study on the subject.) It is here that the best “blogs about politics” should be valued as cutting through the media bollocks and providing an alternative, and where the “political blogs” fail because they follow the herd and exhibit all the faults of the MSM.
I’ve not mentioned the Liberal Democrats yet, but I will; they have been as guilty as the Tories in playing this affair for point scoring party politicking gain. But give them their due; at least they have also used it to propose a move towards fixed-term parliaments, which would prevent the farce of the past few weeks while dealing with the inequity behind it. It is interesting how many Tories have been heard to criticise Brown’s constitutional right to call an election when he likes, but I don’t remember such criticism when the Tories were themselves in power. Also, while there has been much criticism of Brown’s antics, there seems a far less noticeable enthusiasm from Conservatives to back the Lib Dems’ motion, at least at this stage, almost as if the problem isn’t with the prime minister having this power, just with Gordon Brown having it and threatening to utilise it. As with proportional representation, while many in the Labour and the Conservative parties complain about the unfairness of the current system when in opposition, few support an alternative because they don’t want to lose the advantage they perceive it will provide them when they get back into power.
In considering and then dismissing the option of holding an early election Gordon Brown did the sensible thing, he did what anyone would have done in his position; but it shouldn’t be in his gift. Hopefully the lasting legacy of this past week will be that in bungling his election decision Brown has drawn attention to this element of our electoral system, and a groundswell of opinion can build to put an end to the anachronism of the government of the day being able to go to the country at the most advantageous opportunity. As a rule of thumb, if we can take something out of the hands of politicians then it is probably a good idea if we do; and when the thing in question is only of benefit to politicians themselves, then that counts double.