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.

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11 comments

Excellent post Stephen. I do believe he does have a choice. But it will take all his political skills to explain why he isn’t going to call an election after all – just as it will take a lot of skill to explain why he is calling an election, if he does. I would have thought the former option – no election – contains less risks. But then I am not privy to the seaweed and tea leaves which Brown has access to.

by Paul Walter on September 29, 2007 at 1:44 pm. Reply #

I agree with Paul. He can just about wriggle out of it but it will take a class act. ” Although i’m miles ahead in polls and my opponents want one i’m putting the country first and going to just govern.”

Personally I think he’d be mad to go on the basis of polls inflated by a 3 month media honey moon particularly if it means an election after the clocks go back. However if I knew what I was talking about I be working above local councillor level! I agree with the points about Ming and Cameron though. Giving him all the cover he needs to call an early, oppotunistic election is bonkers. See this weks Lib Dem news front cover for another example.

by David Morton on September 29, 2007 at 2:21 pm. Reply #

As long as everyone’s talking about whether their will or won’t be an election, no-one’s talking about whether or not Brown’s actually any good.

In fact, this question will dominate the Tory’s conference too, and it’s just as likely that when it’s finished he’ll say, “no there’s not going to be an election” because, essentially, the whole drama has served it’s purpose – Keeping lots of attention on Brown and demonstrating his ability to keep the nation in thrall.

He’s done his “Brown Strong Cameron Weak” thing, he knows the Tories can’t recover from that, compete with that or otherwise answer it in any way no matter how much time they’ve got. He’ll wait.

by Charlotte Gore on September 29, 2007 at 3:22 pm. Reply #

What we have seen over the last few weeks is Gordon Brown performing a rather dour imitation of Michael Howard in 2005. The Labour conference proved how little difference there is between the two main parties…and now Brown is promising to implement the Tories’ slogans from the last campaign, “less immigration, more school discipline, cleaner hospitals” etc.

I agree with Stephen, (and an excellent anaylsis by the way Stephen), that this opportunism could backfire.

The only way Brown could have justified an early election is to have created a “wedge” issue. If he could have pointed to a fundamental issue, or a different vision on how Britain should be governed, then there might well have been a case for calling an election. And as he is, mainfestly, more competent than shallow Cameron, and while in his honeymoon period as Prime Minister, he would have won his own mandate.

But instead Brown has moved further to the centre right and aped yet more of the Tories’ rhetoric…discipline in schools, tougher sentencing, right to self-defence etc. The public may think Brown is the better PM but there is no obvious demand for an election to determine this. One opinion poll showed that only 29% of people wanted an autumn election and I will bet that few of those will be the key swing voters in marginal seats.

The press want an election, but if they get one, I can see them spending the first week attacking Brown for being politically opportunistic and his opinion poll lead will narrow sharply.

by Paul Harrod on September 29, 2007 at 4:07 pm. Reply #

Gordon Brown would be bonkers to call an Autumn election.

There is no call for it amongst “real people” and Labour and probably Lib Dem voters are not going to come out at 7pm on a dark cold night to vote.

Earlier posts may be right that he has backed himself into a corner, but in a sense it is his own fault for trying to tease the Tories with the rumours.

Not that I’m against teasing the Tories of course.

by Cheltenham Robin on September 29, 2007 at 5:17 pm. Reply #

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Well, damn right too – Brown created a rod for his own back while he was in the very act of trying to cover himself from all possible eventualities.

The arrogance of the man is astounding, so it’s no wonder he fears eating any humble pie the public may wish to feed him when we finally get the opportunity.

Personally I wish he holds onto his position of power for long enough to reap the whirlwind he has sown, and rather than obliterating any opposition to him he will obliterate himself, his party and the endemic system of cynicism and spin he can claim credit for.

by James S on September 29, 2007 at 6:26 pm. Reply #

The momentum is so great now that Brown’s weekend of reflection has to be a sham. If he doesn’t go, the headlines would be ‘Gordon Wobbles’ and ‘Why’s he going to hide?’. He’d prefer ‘Gordon lets the country decide.’

And he’s set the stage for it with the (depressing and illiberal) ‘policy initiatives’ announced at their conference. If he has the skill, he will present the election as the opportunity for a changed direction under Labour.

But what surely matters to Labour most is the internal state of the Tories: this is their election to lose. And they certainly seem ready to do that — witness, as I comment elsewhere, there sudden fixation with 9 council by-election results.

by David Rundle on September 29, 2007 at 7:04 pm. Reply #

I completely agree with the first part of your analysis, Stephen – Brown is trying to be far too clever, and it doesn’t generally take too long before people really start to hate and distrust the class clever clogs.

In particular his attempt to convince us (a) that we might be about to have a general election, (b) that he is only focussed on “getting on with the job” and is not to be distracted by petty party considerations like worrying about a general election date, and c) that he is “a pretty straight sort of guy” not interested in Blair-style media manipulation, is breathtaking for his hypocrisy.

I have argued this a bit more fully this week here and here

by Jeremy Hargreaves on September 29, 2007 at 11:27 pm. Reply #

The Queen could always turn down the request for a dissolution, on the grounds that Brown clearly commands the support of a majority in the House of Commons.

by nigelashton on September 30, 2007 at 12:54 am. Reply #

Kettle is writing rubbish, general election dates are always determined by the governing party on the basis of whether they can win. They judge that from opinion polls.
The Lib Dems are hardly in a position to accuse Gordan Brown of cutting and running, when they themselves have been calling for a general election the moment Gordan Brown became leader of the Labour party.
In the past the Lib Dems have supported fixed term Parliaments and I would suggest that is a good policy that is fair to everyone.

by Geoffrey Payne on September 30, 2007 at 7:35 am. Reply #

If he doesn’t call it he has done us a favour in forcing us to put some urgency into our campaigning and organization.

I also think that a lot of people are going to look at his naked manipulation of the whole political process and conclude he’s a bit of a twat for trying to make fools of all of us, his own party included. I predict an increase in apathy.

by lunartalks on September 30, 2007 at 5:49 pm. Reply #

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