Monday, October 08, 2007

Measures of Success

Gordon Brown
Something else to ponder?
Oddly enough I was out and about in the Village a lot of the weekend. In amongst the boozed-up rugby watching there was actually a degree of serious political debate until we found out that Brown had wussed out.

I say serious, but I soon understood why politics and religion are subjects allegedly best kept out of the pub, when a friend who up to this point I had always assumed to be an intelligent person, declared that Neil Kinnock was, and I quote, "the best Prime Minister this country never had". So much for in vino veritas.

Inevitably predictions were called for on the likely outcome of a snap election. While I wished it were different, the best outcome I could back with any reasonable level of hope of it coming to pass was a very substantially reduced, but probably just about workable, Labour overall majority.

It's, all academic now, but it was interesting to consider what a 'workable majority' for Gordon Brown would have been. Conventionally figures of around 15-20 get bandied about, but I feel his target, even regardless of image problems, would have been much higher. For one simple reason; Scotland.

I've got absolutely no issue with Gordon Brown being Scottish whatsoever. The imbalances in public spending do not concern be greatly, reflecting as they do in the most part, real issues of need. The West Lothian Question is a more significant issue, being as it is at heart, one of fairness.

With the Conservatives securing a plurality of the vote in England in 2005, the prospects of this turning into a plurality, at least, of seats in England must have been a very real risk. Add in the fact that for all the best of SNP efforts that Brown would still have retained a significant portion of his 39 Scottish seats, Labour voting being at least as tribal north of the border as it is south of it, life could have got very difficult for Brown.

Blair managed, more or less, to avoid genuinely needing Scottish votes to secure the passage of English, or English and Welsh only measures. The few times this may have statistically have seemed to be the case it was possible to show that it would have been possible to whip it though without these votes being necessary.

To be seen to be passing such legislation on nearly every occasion with the votes of Scottish MPs whose constituents were unaffected by it would create an outcry, and on each occasion it happened the same clunking fist of political reality would land fair and square in the middle of Brown's ugly face.

With the effect of boundary changes, and a general improvement in Tory fortunes, it's actually very difficult to see how a Brown government would be able to function with much less of a majority than their current 68 were the Conservatives to make any further progress in England whatsoever.

It might seem strange to post on something that is now somewhat of a counter-factual effort, but I think it underlines how badly Brown has played his hand recently. There have just been a few short weeks when the polls suggested a similar or enhanced Labour majority, and without this level of support, a Labour government could end up in a self-destructive nightmare of it's own making.

If the Conservatives manage to avoid another bout of infighting then I've got a feeling that it's still going to be a tough decision for Brown even if he does put it off until 2009.

I've got a feeling the events of the last week or two will weigh very heavily on Brown long after the media have finally moved on.

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