People sometimes get the leaders they didn’t vote for
As a contemporary British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was always a bit of a misfit. The dour Scot always looked a little awkward in the place of his immaculately presented and well-spoken predecessors in Tony Blair, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.
Can changing the leader somehow make a government legitimate when it has been so comprehensively beaten at the polls? Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown may have said, “The people have spoken, we just don’t know what they’ve said,” but in handing the Conservatives more seats than Labour, the only discernable message from British voters seems to be that the government’s time is up.
Brown’s surprise announcement that he will resign by September is a win-at-all-costs strategy. He’s willing to sacrifice himself to keep the Tories out of office. What’s unfolding now in Britain is an increasingly unseemly bidding war for power. The end result, if Labour manages to form a government, will be Britain having a Prime Minister it didn’t vote for.
It’s not unusual in Britain: Brown became Prime Minister in 2007 when Tony Blair made way for him, and the Conservatives rolled Thatcher mid-term in 1990 and installed Major in Downing Street.
And it was an argument deployed against John Howard in 2007: that voters might like him but by returning the Coalition to office they were in fact electing the less popular Peter Costello.
The brutal struggle for power in Britain has now taken an unseemly turn. Negotiations have become cloak-and-dagger, with the backroom discussions beginning to resemble something from a John le Carre novel. See this from The Times:
Unknown to the Tories, Downing Street had opened “back channels” to senior Lib Dems including the former party leaders Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell.
Vince Cable, Mr Clegg’s deputy, had also made clear to Number 10 that the Liberal Democrats “did not want to jump into bed” with the Conservatives.
It emerged that a Labour negotiating team, including Lord Mandelson, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Lord Adonis, met the Lib Dems on Saturday to scope out common ground.
Labour has been in office for 13 years. The Tories were in office for 18 years before that, a period many now agree was far too long, and the party was utterly disunified and engulfed in sleaze and scandal at the end of its term. Much has been said of the Tories earning the “moral right” to govern.
Down here we’re just observers in all this but what do you make of it? Should Labour form a government if it can make up the numbers?
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