In the UK, Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, suffered a drubbing from the electorate last Thursday. It was the worst set of local election results for the Labour Party in 40 years. The Conservative Party got 44% of the vote, with the ruling Labour Party 20 points behind on 24%. There is a real sense of change in the air, although the general election will probably be in two years’ time. The following is what I wrote on my blog after 300 new Conservative councillors were elected and Boris Johnson was elected the new Mayor of London, replacing the discredited Labour mayor, Ken Livingstone.
– Andrew Allison
The Labour Party are still suffering from their political hangover. They knew things were going badly wrong for them, but the hammering they had to endure throughout England and Wales was worse than they could ever have imagined. So where now for Labour and the Conservatives?
For starters – thinking back to 1997 – as far as the share of the vote is concerned, things can only get better. It is inconceivable that Labour could poll less than 24%. They have hit rock bottom and now have to find a way out. They are in power and governments can usually pull rabbits out of the hat when they need to. Whether there are any more rabbits available is another question. The other question on Labour activists’ lips at the moment, is whether Gordon Brown is capable of weathering the storm and lead his party into calmer waters. He is an experienced politician, but one of his greatest flaws is not predicting the stormy seas ahead. When the storm arrives, he acts like Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore.’ He seeks the seclusion that the cabin grants. In all fairness to Sir Joseph, he was not and never pretended to be a sailor; he was simply the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy. Brown on the other hand is the Captain and you expect him to take charge, not retreat and then after the storm tell everyone he is the man to steer the ship and make tough decisions.
The only option Labour has is to ditch its leader. In his – so far – short tenure as prime minister, he has been a spectacular failure. He is divorced from reality. He doesn’t understand the problems facing ordinary people. He hasn’t walked into a supermarket lately and seen how much prices have increased. He hasn’t filled a car up with fuel. He hasn’t felt the pinch of rising gas and electricity prices. He still thinks tax credits are the political equivalent of penicillin – even though the rest of us can see they are a bureaucratic nonsense, costing the taxpayer a fortune. We know the best solution is to not tax people as much in the first place, but that means Gordon wouldn’t be able to tell us what a nice chap he is giving us back all this money. He is a rabbit caught in the headlights. He is completely and utterly out of his depth. He is the Anthony Eden of modern politics. The Conservatives, of course, want him to stay. The last thing the Conservative Party needs is a new prime minister who might do a half decent job and win Labour a fourth term. For Labour though, there is only one course of action. MPs in marginal constituencies are staring at the dole queue. The question is; do they have it in them to bite the bullet and do what is necessary for their party? I think not.
The Conservatives on the other hand are in the box seat. At last, they are seen as a government in waiting. Although 44% of the popular vote is great news, the protest votes in that figure has to be turned into positive votes. David Cameron knows this, however, he also knows that although more meat is needed on the bones of Conservative policies, it is dangerous to come out with too many firm proposals this early. It is a delicate balancing act, but one that has to be executed with the utmost accuracy.
For the first time in many years, I am looking forward to a general election. The electorate will have a real choice. That will be the first time in many a long year. This is healthy for democracy and should get more people turning out and voting. Just as there was a mood for change in the air in 1997, May 1st 2008 will be seen as the critical day when Gordon Brown lost his first test at the polls in the most breathtaking way imaginable.