An early election?

As the results of the local and European elections come flying in, as the storm of Westminster continues to rage, after an unprecedented amount of ministerial resignations and political suicides and enforced reshuffles, it is worth reminding ourselves what challenges Britain has to face.

Along with the rest of Europe and the world at large, we are dealing with an economic crisis, wars in the Middle East, an omnipresent terrorist threat, rampant unemployment, a flu pandemic, an environment in meltdown and a malign and pernicious threat from medieval far-right groups.

It is clear, therefore, that the role politics and governance plays, from the lowliest parish council to the echelons of the European Union, has never been more central to each of our separate livelihoods and identities.

But the results of the elections are unequivocal. Despite this myriad of challenges, one thing continues to dominate our headlines, to rear its ugly head in Parliament. The MPs expenses scandal will not go away- and Labour have been bitten the worst.

As Brown said in PM’s questions this week, every single MP is accountable for this crisis of confidence. But, as is the nature of being Prime Minister, his head is even more exposed in this political manifestation of trench warfare. As the old American saying has it, the buck stops here.

Brown is the figurehead of our political system. He holds the truths of Westminster to be self-evident. Hard as it may be on him, he is undoubtedly the most accountable, and he cannot provide the answers.

He is a good, honest man, and a loyal servant to this country. In terms of policy and reform, of dealing with the big issues and big ideas, few can match him. But it is the minutiae of modern-day politics that he fails to get to grips with, and never really has.

The expenses scandal serves as a perfect illustration of his own chronic limitations; his lack of conviction and decisiveness, his insecurities and communication deficiencies. His talk of the devolution of power and of self-reliance, but his inability to loosen his grip on all areas of policy, or to surround himself with anyone but his closest allies.

These traits stand in stark contrast to that of his young pretender’s populist approach and ability to read public opinion. Cameron judged the outrage and immediately threw his grandees to the pack, knowing they were on the way out anyway. Most of the flack was deflected from Gove and Letwin who were, in many ways, the real culprits.

Brown, on the other hand, publicly and privately gave Blears a dressing down and refused to back her position. She jumped before she was pushed, and made sure that while doing so she rocked the boat. If she’d been sacked weeks ago, the current crisis could have been tempered and managed, if not avoided.

Cameron continues to savage “the Government of the living dead” at every turn, while managing to avoid the question of what he will do with the power he will gain if, as seems increasingly likely, he comes to occupy number 10.

If Cameron is voted in, we will have the most Eurosceptic leader since Britain first joined the E.U in 1973. At a time when constructive engagement on these big issues are necessary, we will be in the extraordinary situation of carping about British independence and identity and winging about the beurocractic gravy-chain of the Union.

For all his misgivings and half-measures, it will be a sad day when Brown eventually goes, as he inevitably will. For all his earnestness and undoubted commitment, his Premiership has had the air of a tragic-comedy.

He bided his time and diligently crunched the numbers while his smooth alter-ego cosied up to George W. Bush, privatised the NHS, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, ostracised the party’s core electorate whilst immersing it in corporate City greed.

After rattling the keys above Blair’s head for so long, Brown’s Premiership is now being decided by dodgy receipts, moats and duck ponds and a saintly little ray of sunshine from Salford.

Smith, Purnell and in particular Blears orchestrated their departures in such a way as to impart maximum damage on the ever-more beleaguered Prime Minister. There message is as clear as the electorate’s; Brown, for all his abilities, does not convince.

But Brown deserves the right to fight an election and to at least defend his honour.  He could judder on to the last available moment, and fight off all the putsches and coups that will accompany that, but the credible thing to do now would be to go to the polls.

For my money, when people are faced with a decision, the election could be a closer thing than many commentators expect. The election roadshow will bring the best out of Brown, will sharpen his sense of purpose and reinvigorate him when he is slumped on the ropes.

Blair’s departing words to Cameron: “You can dance around the ring all you want, but when he hits you will go down.”

In many ways, it is a trivial matter. After being held in such contempt by so many of our politicians, the British public deserve that. Whoever occupies Downing Street will have to start again to restore Parliament’s credibility.


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