» gordon brown ¦ What You Can Get Away With

***BESTPIX*** Labour Launches Scottish Independence Referendum CampaignAs the Scottish Labour Party breaks from tradition to form the circular firing squad before the election and find itself without a leader, speculation has begun on who could replace Johann Lamont as the holder of one of British politics most coveted poisoned chalices.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Scottish politics, so I’m not going to comment on the potential of all the candidates but one name that’s been floated has caught my attention: Gordon Brown. At least one MP is pressing the former Prime Minister to stand, and his role in the referendum campaign would make him a strong contender for the role.

However, if he were to do it, Brown would be unique amongst former British Prime Ministers in choosing to get involved at another level of politics after leaving Downing Street. of course, this is mainly due to their not being many other meaningful levels of politics in Britain that former Prime Ministers could get involved in prior to 1997, but even if we look internationally to countries with more federal systems there’s are very few similar examples.

Indeed, the only example that readily comes to mind is that of Jacques Chirac, who served as French Prime Minister from 1974-6, then became Mayor of Paris in 1977. However, the French Prime Minister is very much subordinate to the President, and the mayoralty of Paris was a newly created/restored role in 1977, making it a perfect position for someone like Chirac to stand for to keep his political prominence high.

After that, the best examples I could find were Richard Nixon, running for Governor of California after being Vice-President of the United States, and (thanks to Richard) Eduard Shevardnadze, going from Foreign Minister of the USSR to President of Georgia (though that was after the dissolution of the USSR). Even in countries with strongly federal systems, the direction of travel for politicians appears to be relentlessly upwards and towards the centre. Once one has reached the peak, there’s no stepping back to a lower role. (Another British exception, in a slightly different way is Alec Douglas-Home returning to his previous role as Foreign Secretary in Edward Heath’s government)

Of course, one major explanation for this is the question of age. Leaders tend to leave their roles at a time when most people are retiring, and they’re probably not to blame for, in the most part, deciding that a period of lecturing, memoir-writing and well-paid advising is a much better way of spending their time than getting involved in a completely different politics. However, as leaders become younger and leave office at a younger age while health improves and being 65 isn’t an end to everything, isn’t there a temptation to continue on in politics in some form if possible? In a system that now tends to throw leaders out after they’ve lost one election, rather than let them try to return to power, isn’t seeking another arena a logical choice?

All that said, I’m still not convinced that Brown becoming leader of Scottish Labour is much more than a very late silly season story, but someone has to be the first to do something, so why not let it be him?

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Not all phone-hacking, all the time:

Paper, scissors, stone – Heresy Corner collects George Michael’s tweets on his relationship with the News Of The World, and notices that they point towards some very dodgy-sounding behaviour from the Metropolitan Police. (via)
Don’t pity Gordon – he supped from the devil’s hands – “At its core, it is an issue of the abuse of political power not by Murdoch, but by Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, David Cameron and every other elected quisling who supped with the devil not with a long spoon but from the devil’s own satanic hands.”
Dominic Grieve is a bigger scandal than Andy Coulson – How The Sun vetoed David Cameron’s choice of Shadow Home Secretary.
Test Your Vocab – Interesting test to see how many different words people are aware of, and by taking part in it, you’re helping out with some research. (36,100 for me, if you’re interested) (via)
An Eye-Opening Adventure in Socialized Medicine – An American visitor discovers the NHS (via)

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Some disorganised thoughts from me, that may or may not add up to a coherent whole. For those looking for a more thought-through opinion on all this, I suggest visiting the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator and working through the entries there. Or take a look at this Dutch perspective on the situation.

I can remember approaching the 2008 elections here in Colchester and we were looking at the prospects of what might happen afterwards. Out of all the possible results, it seemed that the one with the four groups at 27-23-7-3 would be the hardest to find a solution from. So obviously, that was the result we got. This seems like a similar position – the Conservatives where they can’t comfortably form a minority Government, and the combined Liberal Democrat-Labour position doesn’t result in a majority. While we did find a solution in Colchester, this does seem like a much more difficult position to resolve.

Mathematically, a Labour-Liberal Democrat combination, while it doesn’t lead to a majority, isn’t as weak as it might seem. Given that they could rely on the SDLP and Alliance MPs, they’d have 319 to the 307 Tories (assuming they hold Thirsk and Malton in three weeks) and it’s likely that they could get the support of enough from the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Green and independent Unionist MPs to counter the likely Tory-DUP alliance. However, while that might seem possible from a blank slate, given the history and politics involved, it’d be an incredibly difficult solution to sell to the people, especially if it involved Gordon Brown remaining in office, even before you get to the whole issue of Labour’s authoritarian tendencies on civil liberties.

Some have suggested Gordon Brown, or perhaps some other figure, as effectively a caretaker PM for twelve months while this rainbow coalition pushes through a wide-ranging political reform package before a new election. However, to get this through, the wafer-thin majority in the Commons would require Brown to deliver the entire Labour Party through the Aye lobby, and there’s enough of a draconian tendency there to scupper any part of the reform package in favour of keeping their safe seats. There’s also the question of whether a Government made up of so many parties and with a small majority could push through any tough economic decisions that were required.

The problem with a Liberal-Conservative coalition is… well, you can finish that sentence in a number of ways, from a number of different perspectives and almost all of them would be correct. While it seems that Cameron and Clegg might get on personally, the rest of their parties don’t and trying to get through those decades of distrust, contempt and outright hatred at times is not going to be easy, if it’s even possible at all. However, to even get to that point, there has to be a resolution on the issue of electoral reform first.

Whatever happens, I think the media will get their ‘angry Lib Dems quit party’ story – not just people disgruntled at teaming up with one party or another, but even if he finds a way to not choose either, someone will doubtless get themselves their fifteen minutes of fame by claiming we should have done a deal and walk off in a huff because we didn’t.

I know I couldn’t support any coalition deal with any party that doesn’t have a clear and timetabled commitment to a referendum on electoral reform. Not just a Blair-esque ‘we’ll have a referendum at some point in the future’ promise but a definite date by which said referendum will happen. Without that sort of commitment, I can’t see how Clegg and his negotiators could get the backing of the Parliamentary Party or the Federal Executive for a coalition, let alone survive a party conference. Electoral reform is a fundamental part of the Liberal Democrats’ raison d’etre and it’s not something we’d give up on for a few ministerial cars.

However, I do think there is a way for Cameron to get round it, if he can sell it to his party. Remember that our demand is not for the Government to force through electoral reform itself, just a referendum on it. If the Conservatives feel so strongly about it, and think they’re right, then why should they shy away from putting that argument to the people and asking them to decide? Sure, have a committee of inquiry to decide what should be put to the public, but that committee has to have a deadline by which it must report it’s recommendations to Parliament, which will then agree a referendum. I’ve already heard a comparison made to the 1975 referendum on the Common Market where members of the same party campaigned on different sides of the issue yet were able to come together again afterwards.

Of course, even if that can be agreed, then we’ll turn to the rest of the agreement and what sort of policy commitments it requires, but that won’t happen until after the electoral reform question is settled.

Finally, the other option that’s not been brought up much is the possibility of some form of grand coalition or government of national unity. If talks between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives do break down then that might become the only workable option remaining on the table, but that’s something I’ll write more about if we get to that position.

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I was struggling to think of a title for today’s post, then started flicking through the channels and discovered that the 60s Batman film was on FilmFour. It was very hard not to see Gordon Brown as the unluck sap running along a pier holding a giant comedy bomb while the presence of various babies in prams, marching bands, nuns, ducklings and other tabloid-friendly images prevent him from dumping it.

(Not that New Labour’s normally had much of a problem getting rid of bombs)

Obviously, the reason Armando Ianucci wasn’t available to direct the Tory election broadcast I referred to in my last post was because he’s now directing the entire election. Yet again, the broadcasters of Britain breathe a huge sigh of relief as they can now go for another day without talking about unimportant trivialities like policy and instead spend hours and hours dissecting the meaning of one comment. Sometime tomorrow, they’ll have to change their focus slightly to the final leaders’ debate, but they can frame that in terms of whether Gordon Brown will mutter something under his breath or if David Cameron will tell us that he too once met a bigoted woman, so with luck and a bit of manufactured post-debate nowtrage, the election coverage can stay entirely policy-free until the weekend.

The big question is this – is this the day Labour lost the election, or just the day the media will point to as the day Labour lost the election for which they’d already spent five years preparing the ground for their defeat?

Was listening to Radio 4’s PM this afternoon, which featured a Labour person saying that the campaign was going fine, and their canvass returns were showing that everything was fine. Of course, that’s always the response to any claims that things are going wrong – ‘we’re not hearing that on the doorstep’ – and it’s one of those things that I really wish the media would pick up on, by challenging people to put up that data to justify their claims. Never going to happen, of course.

Talking of canvass data, today I was out canvassing in an entirely new area – Chelmsford. A few of us from Colchester went down there to help out Stephen Robinson in his attempt to win there, and to show our thanks for all the times they’ve come out to help us here in Colchester – they’re one of the key reasons we won here in 1997, so we’re hoping that we can now repay the favour and get Essex’s second Liberal Democrat MP. If you’re in Essex and want to help out, then I know Stephen and his team will be grateful for all the help they can get.

Another 40 doors knocked on this afternoon, and then a traffic jam on the A12 meant I got back too late to do any tonight, so that takes the total up to 330. Tomorrow looks like it might be a big delivery day though.

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Another thought struck me this morning: what if Gordon Brown already knows when he’s resigning?

We can safely assume that if he was to resign that the General Election countdown clock would start, with the dissolution of Parliament likely happening within a week of the announcement of the new Labour leader. So, what if Brown and his aides have worked backwards from a May 2010 election and pencilled in a date based on that?

Brown can then come back after the Christmas break and announce that he’s decided that ‘for the good of the party and the country’ he has realised that it would be best that he not lead the Labour Party into the next election. He will thus resign as Labour leader, but not as Prime Minister, to enable the Party to choose who should lead them into the election while he concentrates on saving the world, or whatever his speechwriters think will sound best there. The Labour Party NEC then agrees to hold a leadership election that will declare its result sometime around March 20th, and this time the party will ensure that they have a proper contested election, even if it’s going to end in the sort of result that makes John Smith vs Bryan Gould look like it was a close-run thing.

So, while Brown can get on with governing and lobbying Obama and Merkel for an international job of some description, Alan Johnson and whoever the agreed sacrificial lamb of the Left is get to tour the country, generating headlines and – perhaps more importantly – keeping David Cameron out of them. Around the end of March, the new Labour leader is announced/coronated and then Brown hotfoots it to the Palace, with the hope that they can get to the election before anyone notices how flaky the paint is over New New Labour (now with extra shiny Johnson Man Of The People Power).

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A few weeks ago, talking about BNP proposals for teenage mothers, I wrote:

given that it’s an insane plan based on a kneejerk reaction to create a non-solution to a perceived problem, there’s every chance it might already be being considered at some level of the Government.

God, I hate being right:

Mr Brown says he will create a network of supervised houses in which teenage girls who have children can be helped to bring them up.

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