Friday, June 12, 2009

Labour and the art of comic timing

There are those who suggest that Gordon Brown has the opposite of a Midas touch, in that everything he touches turns to dust. Be it sending good luck messages to our sporting teams, or taking over as Prime Minister just as an unsustainable boom came to and end, he just doesn't seem to be very lucky.

However, my sense is that he, and his colleagues are yet to master the concept of timing. For example, had he approached the Liberal Democrats in 2007, having just got the top job, and offered a deal on a more proportionate voting system, could we, would we have turned him down? Now, he looks desperate and opportunistic. Our ability to support him is restricted by not wanting to look as though we are propping up a discredited and desperate government.

Of course, he then allowed himself to be deterred from calling an election in 2007 by a populist call for the abolition of inheritance tax from George Osborne (probably the only thing the latter has got right as Shadow Chancellor). It was astonishingly foolish given all of the economic indicators and the advantages of his honeymoon period, but indicative of a man who finds the evaluation of risk very difficult.

He clearly isn't alone in lacking a sense of timing. The shambolic drip, drip, drip of cabinet and junior minister resignations created a sense of crisis without building the kind of momentum that would actually make Gordon go. There was no sense of co-ordination, no shared message, nobody willing to stick the knife in and thrust deep. You couldn't imagine senior Labour figures of the sixties and seventies being that amateurish, in truth, and if there's one thing worse that a leadership coup attempt, it's a failed one.

So now we see an attempt to rush reform of the House of Lords through, with not enough time to use the Parliament Act, and with a doubtless hostile second chamber unlikely to lift a finger to help. Even if our Peers vote with the Government, and both Parties keep everyone on board - not that likely, I suspect - the massed ranks of the Conservatives and the Crossbenchers will have more than enough votes to block it until the General Election. Given that the Conservatives have declared reform of the Lords to be a third-term issue, it would be remarkable if significant change could be achieved.

At least they've achieved a level of comic timing, because they're surely going to get plenty of laughter...

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