I don’t often mention politics on this blog. But today I simply can’t resist. This weekend, election fever was rife in the UK. One of the many oddities of our UK political system is that, right now, a man who was never directly elected by the population to be Prime Minister has the power to call an election at a time of his choosing between now and June 2010!
Because we don’t have term limits or fixed terms for Parliament, Tony Blair finally stepped aside to let his Finance Minister become Prime Minister. There wasn’t even a true election within the Labour party since no one stood against him. Please don’t think I am merely revealing an imagined political bias if I tell you that, so far, I am definitely less impressed with Brown’s leadership ability than with his financial acumen or policy-making.
After initially claiming there was no need to hold an election, immediately on taking over the premiership just three months ago, he was emboldened by the so-called “honeymoon period bounce,” during which his poll ratings climbed. At times I still think he looks a bit like a boy playing with his new toys. Certainly the way he has been teasing people over the last few weeks about a possible election has seemed somewhat smug to me. He knows that he has the power to do so as and when he chooses. Since things were looking good for him, he allowed everybody to think that he was undoubtedly going to call an election. He has even been accused of “spinning” over soldiers in Iraq this past week and using civil servants against the Tories. Now opinion polls have swung the other way. It is now, in the words of Nick Robinson of the BBC, “all tosh.” Calling an election is surely a power that ought not to sit in the hands of the elected (or in his case unelected) leader of our nation. This weekend has certainly underlined that for me.
Any pledge by Cameron that if he were Prime Minister he would give up the right to call an election and establish an alternative system would surely gain him some more votes whenever Brown eventually decides to go to the people!
In light of all the speculation that an announcement could be made about an election early next week (to take place, believe it or not, at the beginning of November!!) I decided earlier this weekend that I had better listen to both leaders’ speeches.
I listened to David Cameron’s first. The leader of Margaret Thatcher’s party, Cameron spoke for his political life. Without an autocue. Without detailed notes. He was engaging. Even funny at times. He announced a massive increase in the amount of money that can be inherited free of death duties—sufficient to take the value of most of England’s homes out of the equation. Unemployed who refused a “fair job offer” would lose benefits. There would be a married persons tax allowance, and the benefit system would no longer penalize people for being married or in a relationship.
That one speech changed Brown’s mind—that and the weekend polls, which placed Cameron in the lead over him! Then, cynicism of cynicism! We see a somewhat humbled Brown saying he wants the election to be about his view of the future, and so it will be in the future—a future of his choosing—and, he claimed it had absolutely nothing to do with the polls!
After listening to Cameron’s speech, and before Brown’s announcement, I began to listen to Brown’s. I didn’t get very far into it, but in terms of the style and rhetoric, I certainly didn’t enjoy it half as much as Cameron’s. Now I feel I don’t need to continue to listen.
Please don’t take this as an endorsement of the Conservative Party (even though I do know one of their candidates, Philippa Stroud), nor as a rejection of Labour. All I am saying is that leadership is about tactics, and about good speeches. The past few weeks has surely seen Brown look beaten by Cameron on both counts. Thanks to our electoral system, he can now lick his wounds, get on with running the country, and decide just how he can respond to the political grenade demonstrated in the following speech, which is available in both video and full text from the Conservative Party website.