Opinion: Will the Gordon backlash start here?

by Stephen Tall on September 29, 2007

It’s certainly looking like the cautiously prudent ex-Chancellor is about to prove what a reckless gambler he is now he’s made it to the top, and become Prime Minister.

The momentum behind an early general election appears to be unstoppable. Having marched his troops to the top of the hill it’s hard to see how Gordon can march them back down again without destroying his credibility as a strong, British leader who is proud of the British strength he has gained in this strong Britain.

Labour’s dream scenario is of course this: our granite-faced, crisis-tested Prime Minister, having caught his political opponents on the hop, will romp to victory with a bigger majority than Tony Blair achieved in 2005. Which may yet happen.

But how will the media, and indeed the public, react to a cut-and-run election from a man who has carefully cultivated his image as the anti-Blair, an unspun, straight-talking dour doer? Mr Brown has deliberately spent the last three months trying to lose the reputation for slick opportunism Labour acquired under his predecessor. How will he justify his rush to the polls at the first sniff of victory? That will be his first, big, real test if and when he announces he’s going to pop his head round HM The Queen’s door.

If Mr Brown cannot provide a convincing answer – cannot demonstrate a compelling reason why a general election is in the country’s wider interest, rather than simply his own or his party’s narrow interests – he lays himself open to the charge that he’s a man hoping to sneak a victory before it all starts to go pear-shaped.

A hint of the backlash which might greet Mr Brown’s announcement is provided by Martin Kettle, a devotee of New Labour, in today’s Guardian:

A 2007 election would be entirely unnecessary and without precedent – though it would certainly set one. It would be an act of opportunism and no little vanity. It would elevate campaigning above governing. It would be an election driven by pollsters and partisans, not by the people or by propriety. It would be a dereliction of responsibility. It would be morally wrong.

For once in his life as a political commentator, Mr Kettle is right.

Of course, Mr Brown does have a ‘get out of jail free’ card – in fact two of them, both provided by his political foes, the opposition leaders. The unwise and overly macho posturing of both David Cameron and Ming Campbell – demanding a snap poll for their own politically expedient reasons – gives Mr Brown all the political cover he needs.

But it may not be enough to alter the perception that Mr Brown – the man who pledged to restore trust and honour to British politics – is obsessed simply with partisan advantage. Mr Brown has left himself no choice but to call a general election. If his tactics backfire he will have only himself to blame.