Brown’s Genius

June 11, 2009

Yes, that’s right. It’s time for a kind word to be said about the Prime Minister. For the truth is that his fightback against internal party divisions and the appalling European and local election results last week shows a flicker of inspiration.

Brown has chosen (or Mandelson, or whoever) to come out in favor of two things – parliamentary reform and electoral reform – that will totally remould the British political system. Ironically, if Brown’s plans go ahead, the MP’s expenses scandal, which in the public mind exposed the whole chamber as feckless crooks, will hand more power than ever to MPs. A variant of proportional representation will, meanwhile, change the composition of the Commons utterly, while an elected second chamber will radically alter the legislative and democratic process still further.

These proposals are politically brilliant. They aren’t the expression of Brown’s long suppressed democratic conscience, or a deep rooted passion for completing Britain’s hundreds of years delayed democratic revolution. What they are, are brutal, politically contingent attacks on the Tory Party.

Proportional representation, for example, will make it much harder for the Tories to form a government. Labour and the Lib Dems, meanwhile, continue to converge ideologically, with the massive question of Europe making any entente with the Tories unthinkable for the latter. It is very unusual for any party to garner over 50 percent of the votes in British politics, and given the seeming rise of “fringe parties” at the moment, the chances are even slimmer. So pushing through electoral reform makes some degree of Labour participation in the next government much more plausible.

The ramifications for the Tory Party of further Lords reform are obvious. The party remains  dominated by old and landed money (moats and all) and its base will resent any concessions to democratising the Lords. Yet Cameron will be forced to either oppose Brown’s policy, and appear ridiculous, or to go along with it, hence alienating his peers and his base.

The same applies to parliamentary reform – handing the power to MPs to initiate legislation, empowering select committees, controlling the business of the house. Anticipating office, Cameron will not want to see MPs empowered any more. Under normal circumstances, no government would. Yet Cameron will have to stand up and support reform, or appear to be backing an utterly discredited status quo.

Again, Brown is giving Cameron and the Tories enough rope to hang themselves, which is not to say they will, but the gauntlet has been thrown.

That the public may benefit from this squabbling is incidental, but welcome. Yet don’t be fooled, Brown’s great British refurb is actually a powerplay, and a skillful one indeed.

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One Response to “Brown’s Genius”

  1. Watson Says:

    You are a bit out on a limb if you really regard Gordon as a genius. I am not so convinced that he really wants PR. Based on his utterances he is just throwing it out there for discussion in his typical wind and waste fluids manner. If he does come through with PR reforms for the next election I will take it all back, but with the reservation that I believe him to be so detested by the vast majority that the mere thought of voting for him makes them throw up. Or perhaps it’s just me.


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