The Guardian says it all

There is an air of death hanging over this Parliament. Yesterday I was able to ask a question in topical questions without winning the ballot to be be able to do so, because there was no one else wanting to ask anything. The Immigration debate was very thinly attended, despite the importance of the subject to our constituents. The business collapsed well before 10pm owing to a lack of speakers.

I date the general depression and lassitude to the attack on the Speaker. As I explained endlessly on this site, the Speaker was safe all the time Labour MPs supported him. Suddenly that comfortable majority and that solidarity and supportive briefing vanished. Labour decided the game was up, and withdrew their support. Labour does not seem to have a popular candidate of its own to be the replacement. Many Labour MPs think it would be wrong to have a third Labour Speaker in a row.

Now the rot is spreading to the government itself. Some Ministers feel their own interests would be best served by resigning. It is difficult to see what the purpose of the government is, and obvious that most of them are no longer comfortable within the government they have to support. Their backbenchers either do not turn up, or if they do are likely to ask awkward questions and express their displeasure at what Ministers are doing. There is an atmosphere of authority draining away, of people going through the motions, of a government drifiting.

Can a reshuffle make the difference? Probably not. If the PM chooses the wrong people for the top jobs again, it will intensify the resentments and the unhappiness. If he appoints only loyalists he will encourage a them and us mentality and may give his critics more life and courage. If he goes for a more balanced Ministry he may stabilise things a bit more, but he also needs to turn the opinion polls and give the new Ministers a sense of purpose.

Will they change Leaders? If the rebels are to do so they need to show more cohesion and purpose than they are showing at the moment. They need to identify a single candidate who is brave enough to do it. They cannot afford a long drawn out Leadership election with several candidates. They need to show resolve, and organise a better coup than the aborted one of last year. At the moment that all looks unlikely, but this is a very fast moving story.

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23 Comments

  1. Kevin Lohse
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    It is all too typical of Labour in that the best man available for the job is without doubt Frank Field, but they would rather get behind a tory backbencher who is unloved in his own party. Another example of the scorched-earth policy followed by Labour since it became obvious that they were doomed.

  2. APL
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    JR: “Now the rot is spreading to the government itself. ”

    You are too kind, this administration was rotten, the corruption spread outward.

    JR: “Their backbenchers either do not turn up, or if they do are likely to ask awkward questions and express their displeasure at what Ministers are doing.”

    Shock horror! MPs do their job.

    JR: “They cannot afford a long drawn out Leadership election with several candidates. ”

    Who wants to take over the Labour party this close to an election. It’ll have to be someone like Straw, but would he want it?

    Milliband? Too ambitious and too much of a child.

  3. Denis Cooper
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately a government can take a long time to die if it starts out with a substantial Commons majority, and the electorate has no legal means of giving it a swifter death. That is why we need legal mechanisms enabling voters to precipitate both a by-election (through a constituency requisition) and a general election (through a national requisition).

    In the case of this government, many of the Labour MPs know that the sooner it falls, the sooner their own political careers will be terminated. Even those MPs who have been expelled from the party, or who have been told that they can’t be official Labour candidates at the next election, have a strong personal interest in putting off the general election for as long as possible.

    But then there’s the Lisbon Treaty, and as far as the eurocrats are concerned it’s imperative to keep Cameron out of Downing Street until the treaty is in force, so that he won’t hold a British referendum on it. From their point of view, the most important role of Brown, or any Labour successor as Prime Minister, is not to govern the country but to occupy that square on the chess board and block Cameron.

    The Liberal Democrats say that they want a dissolution, but they want the Lisbon Treaty infinitely more than they want a general election, and if necessary they will keep the Labour government in place until the treaty has come into force.

    They may not openly vote with the government, and their official position may even be to vote against the government, but if the government is facing the likelihood of defeat on a motion of no confidence then a significant, crucial, number of Liberal Democrat MPs will be mysteriously absent from the division.

    Reply: Labour has a majority of 70, so what the opposition does on no confidence or dissolution is not going to make much difference to the result.

  4. Javelin
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Let me summarise in the best Oxford (footlights) tradition

    McFlawed
    McCoronation
    McEmpty
    McChicken
    McBonkers
    McInflation
    McCrunch
    McBlame
    McUnlucky
    McDebt
    McTax
    McExodus
    McLoser
    McGoing

    McGoing

    McGone

    • Adrian Peirson
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      What about McStalin

      • Olaf
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        McBean?

        • Adrian Peirson
          Posted June 4, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          McBust
          McDoom

          you can also interchange them like mobile phone covers, for example you can have

          Global McStalin
          Global McDoom

          or Stalin McBust

  5. A. Sedgwick
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    As I have mentioned before there is a democratic need for a four year fixed term parliament, but there is also a pattern of the fifth year of a government indicating a collapse of authority and purpose. From Atlee, Macmillan, Wilson/Callaghan, Major and now Blair/Brown the fifth year is a sign of a dying administration. Good governance of the country seems to say no fifth year, so it is disappointing but true to form for Brown and regrettably DC to discount or waffle about four year terms. At the very least if not fixed the maximum term should be reduced from five to four years.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    It has been clear for some time that there must be a general election. There can be no confidence in this government or parliament. The country is piling massive debt on top of massive debt. The future of the country and its people is in jeopardy but one man’s vanity is preventing the essential change desperately required. The Labour party is in panic and as a farewell “gift” is reported to intend to vote for John Bercow as Speaker because he is disliked by the Conservatives. The country deserves better than this and without delay.

  7. Simon D
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    We are probably not out of the wood yet either with the banking crisis or the economic downturn or the devaluation of the currency or the printing of money or the possibility of serious inflation or the servicing of our horrendous debts. The existing state of paralysis is a disaster. Mr. Brown would be acting in a statesman-like way if he called a general election for the Autumn. The economy, the banking system and the currency are so fragile that the 2010 election, surely, will be the election no-one really wants to win. Lesson 1 is always that the Labour Party ends by wrecking the economy.

    The British public is ultimately responsible for the current state of politics. At the 2005 election they knew that Mr. Brown was Mr. Blair’s dynastic successor and that a coronation was likely. Yet they lined up at the ballot box to give the Labour government a third term with a large majority. They will now have to live with the unpleasant consequences of their actions.

    The theme of the next five years will be that the British will need to live within their means yet will, egged on by the BBC and the usual suspects in the media, make it impossible for politicians to take reasonable steps to take to ensure that they do so. I think the scenario will be very unpleasant.

    • NickW
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      The BBC has a Charter and an agreement which it is flagrantly breaking.
      Accurate and impartial news the agreement says.
      If you have a majority you can;

      Hold a referendum on the licence fee. or threaten too.
      Refuse to appear on any BBC programme and use only Sky.
      Tear up the Agreement.
      If you can’t tear up the agreement, reduce the licence fee to £5.00 and force the BBC to cut its cloth accordingly.

      The BBC is actually a political party along with the Guardian and Lib Dems, but it is hated, not least because of its Gestapo tactics over the license fee.
      Strict control of enforcement and collection of the fee by Government will leave the BBC with no income eventually. Nobody pays because they want to, they pay because they have to.
      Subscription is the way to go.
      The BBC is a vested interest that has to be fought with no holds barred.

      • SJB
        Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        Wouldn’t it be easier to make the licence fee voluntary? That way if only 10%, for instance, buy a licence then any political flak can be reduced because the Conservative government could argue that clearly most people do not want to pay for the BBC.

  8. Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I don’t know what I’d do if I were a Labour back bencher. Some, of course, are secure, but there a lot more than aren’t. Living in places in the North where the cotton industry, coal mining and iron and steel or ship building once provided a good power base, many of them must face unemployment?
    I mean, they are surely too highly qualified for a menial job and too out of date to be any good at their old one? And, of course some, often, now, seen simply as (damaged-ed)
    I do hope that they have decided what to do with their £200,000 resettlement allowances……

    Meanwhile, rudderless like the Bismarck, the Ship of State drifts around in the Atlantic waiting for the coup de grace.

  9. Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    My hope is that the death of this Government will be the death of socialism as a force in our Country’s destiny. Education is a shambolic wreck of social engineering failure, The NHS is for fit people only. Our ageing population is seen as an inconvenience, our universe of debt is full of even deeper black holes not yet realised. Our armed forces are languishing in a far off unwinnable conflict dragging us deeper into financial and moral debt. The Government and Labour supporters pretend they have some miraculous successes to trumpet deluded as to the fact the people have woken up to their ideological paucity of reality and common sense. I pray this election will be the first of many beacons to guide us out of the cavernous mess that is the legacy of a mendacious and evil Party.

  10. Posted June 3, 2009 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    It was sad to hear about the immigration debate. I’m glad you were there, because the lassitude and depression, as you name the beasts, are the reasons why a country can sleepwalk into the waiting arms of outfits such as the BNP.

    Personally, my dream team for Speaker would be Anne Widdecombe as an interim Speaker followed either by Frnak Field, or else…how about putting your own hat into the ring?

    • Eric
      Posted June 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      The Speaker has to be neutral (unlike this shameful present incumbent) and above politics, while in possession of unimpeachable integrity.
      Ann Widdecombe certainly fits the bill and could be another Betty Boothroyd, which is a high compliment.
      Frank Field has always had the respect of the nation and parliament, even at the expense of his standing within his own party. No one could be a better choice.
      Parliament and the nation would greatly benefit if petty politics does not prevent his elevation.
      John Redwood would bring qualities to the position which have not previously been much in evidence in former Speakers, but it would be a tragic waste of his unique talents, remembering the over riding requirement to be non political.

      • Simon
        Posted June 4, 2009 at 4:06 am | Permalink

        Anne Widdecombe voted in favour of keeping MP’s expenses secret by exempting them from the FOI Act. She is part of the problem, not the solution. If you are looking for untainted people there are very few to choose from and getting less every day.

  11. James
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    We already had a lame duck government. Now we have a lame duck speaker leading a Parliament that has ground to a halt. All this as we face the worst economic climate in years, a war in Afghanistan, important questions over the Lisbon Treaty and our engagement with Europe and the government sending our debt into trillions. To compound it all, the government thinks this is the right time to take a hatchet to our constitution in the name of ‘electoral reform’.
    Words cannot describe the depression at the thought of another year of this.
    John, we truly deserve better.

  12. Posted June 3, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    “The Immigration debate was very thinly attended, despite the importance of the subject to our constituents.”

    Perhaps because of ….nobody wishing to be quoted saying anything controversial. owever it is clear it is not just Labour MPs going to ground.

    I can’t see a reshuffle working – it must be unprecedented for Home Secretary, foreign minister & Chancellor all up for grabs & there seems no queue for the jobs. If Labour come 3rd on hurs (or 4th or 5th) Brown will have to go. However I have said before that Johnson, with a credible commitment to PR could still at least achieve a hung Parliament & that such a reform is probably the only way of letting people feel Parliament is not a conspiracy against us – the Conservatives aren’t popular either,

  13. Sir Graphus
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian says it all, but Cameron made a complete horses of it at PMQs.

  14. Matt
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m aware that in this parliamentary system it’s quite possible to have several changes of PM without going to the country. I suppose the system of having no written constitution gives a lot of flexibility to government.
    One anomaly of our system is that, taking the example of Tony Bair, he was PM for ten years, but unless you were a labour MP or a resident of Sedgefield you didn’t get a chance to vote on him.

    I do though think it would be wrong to have three PM’s in one parliament without going to the country. It’s taking flexibility too far.

  15. Mark J
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    When will Gordon Brown get the message, we want a General Election as soon as possible NOT in June 2010! This Labour Government is sinking quicker than the Titanic with Labour Ministers heading for the lifeboats at a rate of knots.

    Gordon is refsing to hold a general Election for his own selfish reasons. He waited long enough to get the position of PM and intends to stay as long as possible even if he is seen to be doing something when in reality he is not. Also I believe that Gordon will not hold a General Election until the UK has been fully signed up to the hated Lisbon “European Constitution” Treaty, as once in it will be impossible to escape. The majority of the UK want their say on this issue and Gordon has once again shown utter contempt for the voting public by refusing them a say on the issue (even though this was a 2005 election promise!)

    I cannot fully document my hatred for Gordon Brown and Nu-Labour, a Government that has turned the UK from being a great country to one that is a virtual “Banana Republic”. A Government that puts the rights of criminals and foreigners who have been here five minutes ahead of people born here. A Goverment that taxes us to the hilt to pay for their wreckless spending, propping up Banks rather than more worthwhile projects. Most importantly a Government that is not listening to the people, and those people are now saying “Call a General Election now!”

  16. SJB
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I am not so sure Brown will be toppled in the next week or so.

    First, the latest opinion poll (n=4,000) for the European election: CON 26%, LAB 16%, LDEM 15%, UKIP 18%, GRN 10%, BNP 5%.
    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/

    At the moment, the expectation seems to be that Labour will come third or possibly fourth, but as the poll shows there is only 3% difference between second and fourth place. So if Labour did come second – and don’t forget Labour tend to benefit from the ‘magic’ of postal voting – then perhaps the mood will change to “maybe things aren’t so bad after all.”

    Second, there is no clear successor to Brown. Third, it is doubtful that in the few weeks remaining until the summer recess that the actors will agree on who should succeed and for the party to agree on and make the necessary procedural arrangements. Another coronation may also not go down well with the rank-and-file.

    Finally, Brown could always deploy his nuclear option and threaten to ask the Queen for a dissolution. I don’t think the Labour Party would wish to go to the country in July.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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