The Beginning of the End?
What have been the major political headlines over the past week? Aitken is back and the Tories are talking about prison reform, Cameron setting out his moral collapse arguments and re-evaluating the rape laws and conviction rates in this country, Hague talking about Europe, Tory proposals on council tax - the list goes on. What do all these things have in common – they are all focused on the Tories of course. In a week that began with the Queen’s speech setting out Brown’s legislative programme, the Conservative party have been stealing all the headlines. Even in the Queen’s speech parliamentary debate, the main headlines were Cameron baiting Brown demonstrated by the clunking fist’s shaking fist. OK, not all the Tories policies and comments have been well received but the point is David Cameron and his party are now setting the political agenda. How on earth did we get to this point and is this the beginning of the end for over a decade of Labour government?
The answer to the first question is very straight forward – though often confused. A lot people say it was Brown’s bottling of the election that did it. I don’t buy this – the real reason was his refusal to rule one out prior to the party conference and that has caused all the problems he is now paying for. It has put him on the back foot ever since. The real question now is, can he recover or are we witnessing the real rise of a Conservative government in waiting?
Better the Devil you know…
The only hard evidence we have is the polls. However they are incredibly fickle at the moment and not a reliable indicator of what will happen in two years – when the election is currently expected to be. But given that is what we have to go on, I would say that talk of the demise of New Labour is premature. At no point have the polls given the Tories a clear victory margin up to now which does indicate that there is a massive amount of work for them to do – it is still Labours to lose rather than the Tories to win. Secondly, Brown is still (according to the polls) a bigger asset to his party than Cameron is in terms of popularity ratings, believe it or not. Thirdly, the economy is still holding out and while that happens it is going to be very hard to convince voters to switch – come election time, British voters really do seem to believe “better the devil you know, than the one you don’t”.
It has to be Spring or this is an open race
In practical terms, what does this mean? I have long believed that the next election would be won by Labour. However, despite that and all that I have said above it is the first time in well over fifteen years that I think the Tories are really in the game. Right now the advantage is massively with Labour, but every month and every year that goes by opens the door more and more for the Tories as the prospect of Cameron taking over the agenda entirely becomes ever more realistic and the chances of economic decline looms ever more. Far be it that I want to spark a “will he won’t he” election frenzy again, but the only way Brown can be sure of returning Labour to power at the next general election is to go sooner rather than later – i.e. spring 2008. Any later and who knows what will happen? It is clear the momentum is with the Tories, does Brown dare to let that roll on for two years or will the Tories punch themselves out? For a man who hates risk, I wonder if he regrets ruling out an election year – and will he go back on his word?
The Government that ended spin, eh?
One of my first columns on the Wardman Wire made a prediction that Des Browne, our bungling Defence secretary, will be the first one out of Brown’s first cabinet. Somehow he has managed to do a fairly good job of staying out of the media spotlight. This despite demonstrating a distinct incompetence at his job and a long list of disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan that ultimately he should take some responsibility for and also be very ashamed – especially servicemen losing their life over poor and a lack of kit. However, deep down I knew even at the time that it was far more likely that whoever got the Home office or Health would be paying the price due to media attention. I shied away from Smith though because she was new to the cabinet and would probably be given a chance. I also thought that Alan Johnson being the heavyweight that he is would take some shifting and if worse came to the worse he would just do what all health secretaries do – blame their predecessor or if that didn’t work blame 17 years of Tory under investment. However I would now like to change my mind. Because I can.
If today’s revelations are true, Jacqui Smith has to go. If she knew since the 12 July that 5,000 illegal immigrants were cleared to work in security and then deliberately covered up to save her bacon, then she must go. I am not one to call for heads too often. I don’t even think that Ian Blair should be made the scapegoat for the Stockwell shootings (there are plenty of other grounds that justify his departure!). I would never support a minister resigning or sacking for a personal affair such as Prescott had. I don’t support party members being sacked for speaking openly (even if what they are saying is controversial and I disagree with it). In fact, I would even say that if she had been open with this gaffe in the first place I would not support her departure. But if this is proved to be a cover up, in a government that we were promised would end the culture of spin, then there is no choice for Brown but to sack her.
The most entertaining Election of modern times is shaping up nicely
So Brian Paddick has been confirmed as the Lib Dem also-ran for the London Mayoral elections. He is describing himself as Livingstone plus, yet he is positioning himself as the only alternative to Livingstone. Confused? I am. The only thing that he has going for him is his name – he is well known in London. But how long though before he embarrasses the Lib Dem party by not towing the line? I strongly believe that the London Mayoral election is between Boris and Livingstone but in the end not enough people will want to take the gamble with Johnson. Love him or hate him, there are more than enough “Kennites” in London to make the circus that will inevitably following this election a one horse race. But it is going to be one of the most entertaining and brilliant one horse races we have seen. Three genuinely entertaining, gaffe prone, larger than life political characters - it’ll be like a live action version of “Have I got News for You?” on our tellies every day- I cannot wait!