Michael Brown: Labour are running out of viable options – and people

The only wild card still available to Brown is the timing of an election

Share
Related Topics

After failing to save the world (again) at the G20 finance ministers' meeting last weekend, with the universal rejection of his international transaction tax, Gordon Brown is now left with fewer than six months to save his skin. Parliament prorogues this week in preparation for the final truncated session before the sands of time force the Prime Minister to face the British people.

By my reckoning – assuming the general election is on 6 May 2010 – we are 177 days away from Mr Brown's eviction from Downing Street. That means 15 more question-time exchanges with David Cameron, one more Queen's Speech debate, a pre-Budget report, an actual Budget – and probably at least another 50 letters to be written by Mr Brown to the relatives of servicemen killed in Afghanistan.

Labour MPs facing defeat and MPs who are standing down either voluntarily – or involuntarily as a consequence of the expenses scandal – have no more than 70 parliamentary sitting days to enjoy the comfort of the green benches. They will complete six more expenses claims forms before their final pay-off cheque of up to £65,000 is banked. On the plus side, they need only contemplate the grim ritual of sending official Commons Christmas cards and House of Commons whisky to constituency worthies once more. This time next year a few lucky ones will be swathed in ermine but the rest will be selling one of their two homes – hoping that Sir Ian Kennedy will allow them to keep the capital gain.

In the meantime the Prime Minister will be trying to "Rebuild Britain's Future", the theme given in June to the draft legislative programme. Any element of surprise has been taken away from next week's State Opening ceremony. We already know the speech will focus on creating training, skills and apprenticeship opportunities for young unemployed people, although this was undermined by weekend reports of a secret cut of £350m to this budget.

But the rest of the pre-announced list of bills, including an Energy Bill, the Digital Economy Bill and yet another Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill, hardly seem likely to make any electoral impact on voters this side of the election. And as for the Constitutional Renewal Bill, I suspect that the House of Lords will see to it that much of this is sunk without trace by polling day.

Mr Brown's hopes no longer lie in legislation and will be determined by economic indicators now largely outside his and his Chancellor's control. We know that VAT will increase back up to 17.5 per cent and that unemployment will continue to rise. The possibility of a technical return to economic growth might lift the gloom momentarily but, with no room for manoeuvre, the opportunity for a vote-winning Budget giveaway will be denied.

Of course, it is entirely possible that some completely unanticipated event might provide an opportunity for Mr Brown to play to some of his strengths, although given his record so far this really would be clutching at straws.

I've often wondered what the effect of a huge unexpected national or international crisis, occurring in the middle of an election campaign, would have had on Margaret Thatcher, John Major or Tony Blair. Luckily, all our recent elections have occurred without unknown events crowding out the contours of the hustings. Certainly Thatcher and Blair would have excelled in such situations, reinforcing their poll leads already established at the start of their campaigns. If some awful terrorist event had erupted during the 1992 election, Major would probably have gained in prestige, following the Gulf War a year earlier. Equally, I suspect, however, that some untoward national event during the 1997 campaign would not have saved him, regardless of how well he might have handled the situation. The US experience in the banking crisis, during last year's presidential election, solidified Obama's poll ratings to an even greater extent. The die, once cast, merely reinforces and rarely changes voters' perceptions.

With what cards can Mr Brown now shape the political weather? Only surprise. He could relinquish the reins in his party's interest at the turn of the year. But this would only bring a marginal benefit, even if an iron discipline on an agreed cabinet successor ensured a transition to a new leader within days of his resignation. Suppose Alan Johnson or whoever were to emerge, complete with white smoke, Pope-like, in the early days of January, along with the immediate announcement of an election date. The novelty of a changed political landscape might prevent a Labour meltdown but would still be unlikely to prevent the inevitable Tory victory.

Only the timing of the election remains Mr Brown's wild card. He could follow the example of John Major by calling an election the day after an early Budget. If he wanted a short campaign, by avoiding Easter, 25 March remains an outside bet. But, frankly, Mr Cameron would still hold all the trumps.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Sir Tim Hunt made the remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea.  

The Only Way is Ethics: Strong opinion goes too far if it seeks to silence those who oppose it

Will Gore
Wilbur, the pig who thinks he's a dog (Dom Joly)  

My hilarious pet pig Wilbur is more popular than I am — so I'll let him bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'