Tag Archives: gordon-brown

Should Clegg cuddle up with Gordon Brown?

Via Twitter, Tom Griffin alerts me to an article by Philip Stevens claiming that by ruling out supporting Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg has thrown away his negotiating position for forming a reforming coalition government with the Labour Party. There are only two problems with this article: Stevens clearly has no idea how the UK constitution (such as it is) works, and clearly has not listened to anything Nick Clegg has actually said on the subject.

Before I continue this article, a caveat. It is speculates what might happen if we find ourselves in a hung parliament situation on 7 May. I’m not predicting this will happen; I have no idea what will happen. What I am seeking to clarify are what the Lib Dems’ options actually are in such a situation.

In terms of the latter, Clegg has been quite clear: the party with the biggest mandate should have the first chance to form a government. Contrary to any cheese-induced dreams Stevens may have had recently, he has explicitly not stated that the Lib Dems would automatically support the party with the biggest mandate, nor has he defined “biggest mandate”. The latter is crucial because even now we have no idea if the party with the most seats in the Commons will have the largest share of the vote. Defining “mandate” will inevitably be a judgement call based on numerous factors.

Secondly, he appears to be under the impression that if Brown is ousted, then the Queen will automatically approach Cameron to form a government and that if Cameron is defeated then a General Election will automatically be called. Both these assertions are completely incorrect. Before writing his article, Stevens should have spent a few minutes studying the briefing note the Cabinet Office prepared back in February which explains exactly what will happen (pdf). It states that:

When a Government or Prime Minister resigns it is for the Monarch to invite the person whom it appears is most likely to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons to serve as Prime Minister and to form a government. However it is the responsibility of those involved in the political process – and in particular the parties represented in Parliament – to seek to determine and communicate clearly who that person should be. These are the principles that underpin the appointment of a Prime Minister and formation of a government in all circumstances.

Where a range of different administrations could potentially be formed, the expectation is that discussions will take place between political parties on who should form the next Government.

What this means is that if Cameron cannot form a majority without the Lib Dems’ help, and is not prepared to make some pretty major concessions to the Lib Dems (if you aren’t aware already, those demands are the four key Lib Dem manifesto commitments for a fairer tax system, education, a fair and green economy and a fairer politics), then as long as Labour are prepared to make such concessions there is no reason at all for the Queen to even ask Cameron to form a government*. Furthermore, the Queen is obliged to listen to the Liberal Democrats (and others, for that matter) before making a decision, not merely talk to the main two parties. And even if Cameron does get as far as a Queens’ Speech, which falls, fresh elections will not be automatic:

A Prime Minister may request that the Monarch dissolves Parliament and hold a further election. The Monarch is not bound to accept such a request, especially when such a request is made soon after a previous dissolution. In those circumstances, the Monarch would normally wish the parties to ascertain that there was no potential government that could command the confidence of the House of Commons before granting a dissolution.

Tom raises the spectre of 1974 when the Queen ordered fresh elections despite the reassurances of Harold Wilson that he could form a government. But one of the few things we do know is that 2010 will not lead to a repeat of the ’74 parliament whereby a coalition government combining the Liberals and either the Conservatives or Labour was not really viable. The Liberals had 14 MPs and no negotiating position – they didn’t have enough people to even have a significant Cabinet presence. In 2010 by contract, the Lib Dems could have anything between 60 and 120 MPs and thus hold a very decisive balance of power. If the Queen were to call fresh elections despite Labour and the Lib Dems requesting to form a coalition government with a clear majority, the only thing she would achieve would be to make her own future an election issue.

The question boils down then, not to what Clegg would do but how the Labour Party will respond. How quickly will they be able to recover from the affront that Clegg won’t prop up Brown (a leader who, it has been clear from the last couple of years, most of them regret coronating in the first place) and start looking at alternatives? Or would they rather have a Tory administration just to spite the Lib Dems? That certainly appears to be Gordon Brown’s own current position (I was amused to read John Harris describe Brown adopting a scorched earth policy – that’s exactly how I had described it five minutes before reading his article). My prediction is that once the dust has settled, cooler Labour heads will prevail and they will start talking.

If they think they can still brass neck it and blackmail the Lib Dems into backing them, they need to remember three things. Firstly, any attempt to prop up Gordon Brown would be seen by the public as an utter betrayal of Clegg’s rallying call for real change – he would be finished. Secondly, assuming the Tories win the most seats (and Labour would have to move mountains to change this at this stage), the Lib Dems don’t need to actually vote for a Cameron administration but merely abstain (and such a Cameron government would still be hamstrung by having to negotiate everything with Parliament). And third, we’ve been waiting a lot longer for this moment than Labour has, and have a lot less to lose.

So spare us the threats and the “our way or the highway” posturing. That way lies oblivion. And Mr Stevens, perhaps you ought to do a bit more research in future?

* This is a fact that Cameron himself may like to appraise himself of, if the report in the Telegraph of Cameron ruling out talks with the Lib Dems are true. If that’s the case Dave, you can kiss the keys to Number 10 goodbye.

“Good God, they might just do it!”

That was my reaction to the Sunday Times/YouGov poll today suggesting that Labour had managed to close the Tory lead down to just 2 points. While I expected the polls to close as election day drew nearer, and wouldn’t even be surprised by a margin such as that come 6 May, I never expect it to happen so quickly. You’ve got to hand it to Labour; they are starting to get the wind in their sales again.

But then, however much of a shambles the Tories may be at the moment, I’ve got to admit that they have a point when they ask, as they have been today, could you really face another five years of Gordon Brown? The idea fills me with dread. The silver lining on the Tory cloud was at least that there was a chance to remodel Labour along more liberal, less tribal and genuinely progressive lines. There are plenty of people in Labour I would happily see the Lib Dems working with in government; the current hegemony in charge at the top are a notable exception. That hegemony faces oblivion if Labour lose the election; if, hope against hope, they win, it will be another five years of one of most apocalyptically bad administrations we’ve ever seen.

I like to think that if Labour won they would unsentimentally ditch Brown as quickly as possible; he certainly has remarkably few genuine allies in the party. But that would not be without its problems either. Brown would have a personal mandate and it would be regicide on a scale that would make Thatcher’s assassins blush. The result would likely be a Brownite replacement who would quite possibly make Brown seem to be a wise sage in comparison (Balls, anyone?). The best we could hope for is a handful of reforms – including to the House of Lords – that Labour simply cannot continue putting off any longer (although Jack Straw will have a good go) and the prospect that a reduced majority will make it harder for the Brownite hegemony to continue to get its own way. The AV referendum will be a lost cause (the facts that it won’t survive if the Tories win and is highly unlikely to deliver a ‘yes’ vote explain why I struggle to get motivated by it either way).

For me, the most telling part of Peter Watt’s Inside Out was the section in which he describes how George Osborne wrong-footed Labour by announcing his plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold in 2007. No-one at the top of Labour had a clue how to respond to this (including, it has to be said, Watt). The same team were responsible for the 10p income tax rout a couple of months later. For these people, “fairness” is nothing more than an empty slogan designed to engender votes. It’s a branding exercise with no substance which they would ditch in a second if it had served its purpose. The only thing that makes Labour better in my eyes than the Tories is that there are a clutch of consciences sitting on their frontbench which occasionally remind the party of the principles it claims to expound (the baying mob on the Tory benches who are similarly keen to remind Cameron of Conservative principles could never be legitimately described as “consciences”).

I just don’t want either of the fuckers. To the 45% of the population living in a constituency where the Lib Dems are in first or second place: please. We might not be perfect but surely it’s the better option by a wide margin?

Comment is Free: Gordon Brown and the Alternative Vote

Wondering what I think of Labour’s plans for a referendum on electoral reform? Well wonder no longer!

The alternative vote is a small but significant step forward in the ongoing campaign for a fair electoral system fit for the 21st century. On a good day. Maybe.

If Brown’s system of choice bores campaigners, what hope is there of inspiring the public?

Everything in the middle can be found here.

Team Brown and the spirit of Christmas

Nick Brown’s choice of Christmas card is, I suspect, quite revealing about the mindset of the gang of people that Gordon Brown surrounds himself with. Earlier this year of course there was the whole Red Rag debacle and Labour has been at pains to insist that everything has now changed with the departure of Damian McBride.

But seriously, what does it say about the psychology of someone who chooses to ridicule a political rival as the subject for his Christmas card? It isn’t even as if the Lib Dems are the big threat to Labour at the moment. Or perhaps Nick Brown has been looking at those opinion polls which have put the Lib Dems within the margin of error from beating Labour and decided that the real game during the general election is ensuring that Labour doesn’t completely disintegrate?

Gordon Brown is in some ways a lot like John Major but there is one very important difference. For Major, the “bastards” were the numerous people in his own team who were constantly plotting behind his back. Brown’s bastards on the other hand were hand picked personally by him to plot on his behalf. I suspect this distinction speaks volumes and explains why it is that while most people remember Major with at least some degree of affection (a man out of his depth doing his best), Brown will simply be remembered as a bad prime minister.

Oh what a lovely war!

It is possible to forgive Gordon Brown a lot. It is possible to argue (and, however incredibly, there remain people within the Labour Party who do) that Brown really does believe in things like justice, liberty and democracy. The problem is, the argument goes, that the perfidious media and electorate won’t let him promote an unashamedly progressive agenda and so he is forced to do the best under the circumstances.

If you squint a little bit, you can just about see where this argument is coming from. Sure, inequality and attacks on civil liberties have increased over the past 12 years, but look at the minimum wage, tax credits and the human rights act. These may have been ineffective, but at least his heart’s in the right place. Right?

To know the true mind of Gordon Brown one must do more than just scratch the surface. But some statements reveal rather more than he would perhaps like to be shown. Not every statement needs to be spun. Such is the case with Gordon Brown’s tribute to Harry Patch, who died over the weekend:

I think it’s right we as a nation have a national memorial service to remember the sacrifice and all the work that was done by those people who served our country during world war one and to remember what we owe to that generation – our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy in the world. Those men and women did a huge amount and it’s right that he have a special commemoration of what they have done.

I can’t really better Martin Kettle’s rebuttal of the claim that we can attribute “our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy in the world” to the successful outcome of World War One but I have a few thoughts of my own.

Firstly, the adventurism of the first World War killed off the first attempt to build a welfare state almost stone dead and it was not revived for another thirty years. By the twenties, many of the post-1908 gains were being subjected to means tests and being curtailed. The means to pay for it – a land value tax on wealth (not incomes – a real threat to the landed classes that they have managed to stop in the decades hence) – was quashed before it could even be properly introduced. The momentum for House of Lords reform was lost. Some might argue that what we got in exchange was women’s suffrage, but you could equally argue that the war merely postponed it.

Of course, it is quite possible that none of these things would have happened even if the war hadn’t happened. Certainly, no-one living in the early 20th century can be under any illusions about how excellent the establishment is at stifling reform. But one thing is unarguable, and that is that the first World War lead directly to the second. The men and women who fought that war really were fighting for our liberty (although that too can be overstated), but they shouldn’t have had to. And the millions who were slaughtered by the Nazis died senselessly. It is hard to see how any of this would have happened if we hadn’t chosen to bankrupt Germany in 1918.

This isn’t to dismiss the bravery of men like Harry Patch and Henry Allingham or to somehow present them as traitors and war criminals in the way that the far left and the greens are determined to present our troops today. But they didn’t fight “for” liberty and democracy. If it can be said that they fight for anything it was the last hurrah of British imperialism, something which we can be grateful is now dead. We need to remember and commemorate them because it must never be allowed to happen again. For Gordon Brown to recast history in this way on the day that the last witness to events has passed away is nothing less than grotesque. It speaks volumes about Labour’s own enthusiasm for military adventurism and demonstrates his unsuitability to the job of Prime Minister.

Whatever happened to dignity in politics?

No, this isn’t an attack on Lembit Opik’s decision to resume his column for the Daily Sport.

Screenshot from Tory email.Screenshot from Myxer.comInstead it is to draw your attention to an email I’ve just been sent by the Conservatives. They are still jumping with joy about the fact that the pro-Euro, economically leftwing Peer Steinbruck made some critical comments about Brown’s economic policy, stretching the idea of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” to breaking point. And as an added bonus, they are offering people free ringtones of Gordon Brown’s “saving the world” gaffe. I followed that link. It took me to a website called myxer.com. It suggests that the sort of person who would like this ringtone would also like “yous a hoe” (I assume this isn’t a reference to the correct application of garden tools) and “N.I.G.G.E.R..”

It this really what passes for Tory opposition these days? Uncritically praising any criticism of the government, regardless of the source, and peddling ringtones? Credit must go to Jeremy Hunt – a week into the job as the new Tory online campaign chief, he has taken a clear aim for the gutter and hit the ballseye.

Am I being oversensitive? I don’t have much love for Gordon Brown, a man who never fails to disappoint me, but I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of kinship for him. There is something about the braying mob on the Tory benches that I detest, just as there is something about Brown that gives them an allergic reaction. But just as I have to admit to seeing a certain amount of myself in Brown when he stumbles as he did this week in PMQs, could it be that the ra-ra Tories see a bit of themselves in him as well? Could it be that while the liberal response is to empathise, the reactionary response is to goad, to bray, to bully? I know of at least one Tory member whose response to the gaffe was not that Brown had cocked up, but that he was “telling lies.” When it gets that irrational, you know there is something deeply psychological at play.

We all like a joke, but most of us know where the joke ends and continuing to go on about it just starts looking embarrassing and undignified. You would have thought that CCHQ would have learned the lessons of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, but clearly not.

Cutting tax is not a zero sum game

I’m cautiously optimistic about the rumoured plan of a 2.5% drop in VAT. It sounds like a good move to me, for several reasons.

One thing a VAT cut won’t do is lead automatically to a reduction in prices. Most food isn’t VAT-rated and it is hard to believe that a CD priced £9.99 this week will be priced £9.78 next week. However, taken together those 11ps start to add up. At the top end of the scale, being able to shave a bit more off the asking price for that plasma screen might just make the difference between whether it sells or not. If spending on the high street is down a couple of percentage points, dropping VAT by about the same amount could save real jobs. That means more people paying NI and income tax (and VAT) and fewer people claiming JSA. Looking it in that way, we have to ask ourselves the question: would it cost the Treasury more or less to keep VAT at 17.5%?

Gideon Osborne is not this blog’s favourite Shadow Chancellor, but I will give him credit for one thing: he has managed to get the media to completley buy into his claim that tax cuts now – any tax cuts – will automatically lead to paying a greater price in the longer term. The truth is much more complicated than that. VAT is a deadweight cost – a tax on commerce which is generally seen as a good thing. In my personal utopia, we wouldn’t have it in the first place. Dropping it at the start of a downturn has a real chance of softening the landing. It isn’t a magic feather, and there is certainly a point where the cost of dropping it outweighs the benefit, but it is a practical measure.

Vince Cable has broadly welcomed it, while emphasising the Lib Dem’s own policy for a tax switch (both policies are compatible). Cameron and Osborne have rubbished it. That should surprise no-one because VAT is the tax of choice for the Conservatives. It was Mrs T’s favourite tax. Raising it still further was one of Norman Lamont’s first acts as Chancellor. Ken Clarke, keen not to be outdone, expanded it to gas and electricity (Clarke has now come out as a VAT-cutter, suggesting his common sense now outweighs his dogma). Tory ginger group Direct Democracy – the closest the Conservatives get to genuine localists – envisage a world where council tax will be replaced by, you guessed it, a sales tax.

Once you remember that the Conservatives are not a pro-business party but a pro-entitlement party, it is easy to see why: piling the VAT on the proles means that you don’t have to pay for things by taxing unearned wealth. So for future Baronet Gideon Osborne to recoil at the merest suggestion is no surprise. The only tax cuts he will consider are on things like inheritence tax for millionaires.

The Tories have decided they are back in 1992, and have relaunched their “tax bombshell” posters. Labour should follow suit. Anyone remember VATman?

What Clegg should ask in PMQs tomorrow

Unusually for me, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been watching PMQs.

It hasn’t been a happy experience for me. On both occasions Clegg has been felled by Brown, who on both occasions has simply swatted him away by smearing about £20bn cuts in public services. And I can’t help but feel that the confusion at the heart of Clegg’s own strategy has lead these blows to be effectively self-inflicted wounds.

It’s time he rethought this strategy. Instead of flailing wildly once Brown has accused him of wanting to cut public services, he should confront it face on. I’d like him to say something like:

The Prime Minister has repeatedly accused me of wanting to cut public services. If by that he means I am calling for him to abandon the appalling money pit of the national identity card scheme, scaling back the NHS IT programme and [your choice here], then I plead guilty. In this time of economic crisis, how can he possibly justify continuing to waste public money on these projects?

Come on Nick, don’t make me put my head in my hands for the third week running.

What do the Scottish Greens and Guido have in common?

Both today are calling for Land Value Taxation, or at least they seem to be.

The Scottish Greens certainly are. Municipal tax reform in Scotland remains in deadlock and dependent on at least one other party agreeing with the principle of local income tax. That seems unlikely at the moment, even if the Lib Dems capitulate over the SNP’s insistence of greater centralisation (which does not look likely; what would they gain except appalling policy?).

Meanwhile, Guido is raving about the reprinting of Fred Harrison’s Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010 (Guido also pats himself on the back at his prescience for predicting the housing crash in September 2007; modesty prevents me from mentioning that my first blog post on the subject was July 2006 and frankly I could have told you what was going to happen a long time before then).

Fred Harrison? You might remember me linking to this video earlier in the year. Harrison, aka the renegade economist, is a keen exponent of land value taxation and regards it as a crucial tool in the armoury against boom and bust cycles (actually, as the video indicates, he goes a lot further than that).

So yes Guido, Gordon Brown was very very wrong. But somehow I doubt your mate Gideon Osborne is going to be interested in Harrison’s prescription. The son of a baronet and Shadow Chancellor for the Conservative Party, it is his job to protect vested interests, not challenge them.

Clegg, cuts and communication

The Lib Dem press office has just issued a press release about today’s PMQs. In it, he accuses Gordon Brown of deliberately misrepresenting Lib Dem policy on tax and spend:

On numerous occasions you have deliberately misrepresented Liberal Democrat economic policy in the House of Commons, claiming that we propose a £20bn cut in public spending:

As I have repeatedly made clear, Liberal Democrat policy is to identify £20bn of Government spending which is either wasteful or ineffective and to re-allocate it to Liberal Democrat priorities in areas such as education and care for the elderly.

If there is money remaining once Liberal Democrat spending priorities have been met we propose to increase the funded tax cuts we are already offering to those on low and middle incomes.

Is Gordon Brown deliberately misrepresenting party policy? Of course he is! But the fundamental problem here is that Clegg hasn’t repeatedly made our policy clear; quite the opposite. What’s more, it had another opportunity at PMQs again. Brown made the accusation after his first question and Clegg did not respond, instead robotically going into his second question. Yet this was a pretty predictable accusation to come from Brown; so why wasn’t Clegg better prepared?

It really is time Clegg got his act together on this issue. It’s been a problem for months now and he can no longer afford to let it get in the way of our broader message.