Ever since I heard about Gordon Brown’s decision to call off an autumn ballot, I’ve been thinking of Helen, the runner up of Big Brother Series 2. Famously, for the proverbial 15 minutes at any rate, Helen liked blinking. Well, Gordon Brown has just given it a go and I get the feeling he doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like it at all.
And yet. And yet. Reading Jeremy Hargreaves’ piece on the tragedy of Cameron has got me thinking. While Gordon Brown’s nods and winks about a November poll have successfully united the Tory party and given them a good week at a time when we were expecting them to tear each other apart, they have coalesced in traditional Tory territory. Their one commitment on environmental issues, a levy on planes to replace the passenger duty, essentially means that the Tories have caught up, puffing and wheezing, with where the Liberal Democrats were in 2004. Back then, as a member of the Green Liberal Democrats exec, I can assure you that we were deeply concerned at the lack of solid commitment the party had to environmental issues. If that’s the best Cameron can do, he ought to drop the act that he takes the issue of climate change seriously; no-one’s buying, least of all Zac Goldsmith (who, following his sulk last week, ought to claim the mantle of Quiet Man from IDS).
My prediction last week that by not holding an election now, Brown will force the Tories to bore the public to death on the topic of Europe still holds. The Tory front bench have now as good as given their rottweillers a green light to bonkers over the IGC this month and the genie cannot be put back in its bottle. Whether he likes it or not, Cameron’s own party will now force him to make Europe a big deal in the election.
The process of rejecting Cameronism, which started with the Grammar schools debacle in the summer (“Grammar streaming”? Snarf!!), is now complete: Cameron is now a slave to his party. A couple of years ago, he was really quite scary and seemed to truly capture the zeitgeist. Now he just looks like another posh boy.
But Brown hasn’t got off lightly either. In truth, his tarnish started to come off with the stunt last month when he invited Thatcher round for tea: it was horribly effective but about as subtle as a brick and we all knew it. Back then it became apparent that Brown was just as careful a spinner as his predeccessor; now it is undeniable. The honeymoon period is now over; he too now looks as if he has feet of clay.
That the Labour and Tory leaders are mortal may not appear to be that big a revelation, but when you remember that this is the main criticism levelled against Ming Campbell, you begin to realise that it represents a real opportunity for the Lib Dems. We’ve all been taken down a peg or two since 2005; from now on politics will have a little less effervescence and be a little more substantial. In my humble opinion, all the boring, dry work that Campbell and his colleagues have been doing to make the Lib Dems serious players in terms of policy and positioning now has a chance to pay off. He still needs to sort out his press operation (kudos to whoever for getting the Campbell comment on Brown’s bottle out before Cameron, although I note now that the BBC has now relegated Campbell’s comment in the way it always does – thank God we can rely on Iain Dale to confirm how slow the Tories were out of the starting blocks), but if we can just sort that out, I’m confident we have now turned a corner.