Leading article: Right decision, wrong reason

Share

Gordon Brown has come to the right decision, but apparently for the wrong reasons. Now is not the time for a general election. There is no demand for it. There may be great issues that could be put to the people, such as the measures needed to cut global warming, or Britain's relations with the European Union, but the Prime Minister proposes no big changes in government policy.

There was a plausible case for an election when Mr Brown became Prime Minister three months ago, on the grounds that the country's leadership had changed. But it was hard to argue that it was democratically necessary. David Cameron was guilty of the sheerest opportunism when he declared on the day Mr Brown took office: "Gordon Brown doesn't have the mandate; he wasn't elected as Prime Minister, and he should go to the country."

The conventional principle of parliamentary democracy – that the people elect a party, not a prime minister – was good enough for the Conservatives in 1990 when John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher. But if that were not enough, the 2005 general election was a special case. Not only was Mr Brown called upon by Tony Blair to play a prominent part in the Labour campaign, but Mr Blair had also said, unusually, that he would not lead the party into the following election. So, whatever the close textual analysis of his pledge to serve a "full third term", the terms of the deal were explicit: if Labour won, someone else – most probably Mr Brown – would take over at some point. The Conservative charge that this would somehow be contrary to the wishes of the voters was exploded when they tried to run the pre-election slogan "Vote Blair, Get Brown". They were forced to abandon it promptly because they discovered that it encouraged more people to vote Labour. Broadly speaking, voting for Blair and getting Brown was what the country did in 2005.

Indeed, the mood of the country since 27 June has been one of slightly surprised satisfaction at the way Mr Brown assumed his responsibilities. Certainly, the mood of this newspaper was one of goodwill towards the new Prime Minister. The few policy changes he made were mostly sensible, and the tone he set was welcome, especially on the threat from al-Qa'ida-inspired terrorism and on relations with the United States. We were disappointed by the apparent lessening of urgency on the question of climate change, but encouraged by the desire of the Government to be seen at least to be listening more.

In the past two weeks, Mr Brown has put all this at risk, quite unnecessarily. The mystique that he carefully preserved, derived from his remarkable stewardship of the nation's finances, is being frittered away. We knew, of course, that he is a highly effective politician, capable of spin and some cynicism. After all, the posing with Margaret Thatcher on the doorstep of No 10 was an example of both. But in that case he had the excuse of politeness: he could not stop the old girl from having her moment in the flashbulbs.

This time, there was no excuse. As John Rentoul points out today, Mr Brown's advisers told journalists that the Prime Minister was studying opinion polls as he considered whether to call an election. They confirmed that the deciding factor would be party-political advantage. What was surprising was that they did not even bother to invent a reason that might make it look as if Mr Brown would make the decision in the national interest. The best they could do was to confirm that the Prime Minister would like to have his own mandate from the voters – a mandate that Mr Brown himself said, in a radio interview two weeks ago, that he did not need.

He could and should have ended the speculation then. The timing of yesterday's recorded interview makes it look as if the clinching factor was a poll of marginal seats in a mass-market newspaper.

This is no way to run the "new politics" that Mr Brown so recently promised. Indeed, the way he stoked election speculation makes that promise look insincere. One of the powers of the prime minister that Mr Brown proposed to "give away", in his programme of constitutional reforms, was the power to decide the election date. The fraudulence of the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons offering to yield a power of decision to a majority in that House has been quickly exposed.

This has been a damaging episode for Mr Brown. Not because the Opposition will accuse him of cowardice; that is what oppositions are for. But because it makes us look again at the way Mr Brown has drawn attention to his calm authority in the face of bomb plots, flooding, foot-and-mouth outbreaks and a bank run. At the time, we thought his composure was reassuring; now it looks more like an attempt to secure political advantage by striking the right poses.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manage...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service Engineer - Doors / Windows

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist designer and ma...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Here’s why I’m so full of (coffee) beans

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn