Monday, May 10, 2010

Political Obituary: Gordon Brown

The BBC reports (here) that Gordon Brown will step down as the leader of the Labour Party, following its massive election defeat last week. Unpopular since taking over as Prime Minister following Tony Blair's retirement in June 2007, Brown steadfastly withstood calls for early elections, and almost succeeded in clinging to power by his adept handling of the 2008 economic recession. In a November 2008 poll by the Times (London) (read here), Brown "comfortably" beat Tory leader David Cameron as the party leader best able to manage the economy. However, as the British economy continued to struggle in the run-up to the election, Brown lost his recession "bounce," and more. It must be said that many in the UK (and elsewhere) did not think Brown would last as long as he did in 10 Downing Street. On the other hand, he never had any incentive to call for elections any earlier than absolutely necessary.

Why did Brown announce his resignation today, rather than await the outcome of coalition talks to create a new government? This is speculation, but I suspect the move is intended to break up coalition talks between the Tories and the LibDems, and enhance prospects for a Labour/LibDem coalition government. There was never any chance of Brown remaining as Prime Minister in such a coalition, anyway. LibDem leader Nick Clegg had made that much clear even before the elections. So, Brown's announcement today may be viewed as a credible commitment to meeting LibDem demands.

Will it work? I doubt it. A Labour/LibDem coalition would still be a minority government, leaving the Conservatives positioned to block any legislative initiative, including the LibDems chief goal of election reform. The LibDem agenda would clearly be much better served by a majority coalition with the Tories, if they can cajol David Cameron into making a credible commitment in the direction of electoral reform. So far, Cameron has stopped short of such a commitment, only agreeing to study the issue.

Whatever the outcome of coalition negotiations, Gordon Brown's political career seems all but over. Of course, the same was said of Winston Churchill even before he became Prime Minister for the first time. But if there's one thing we know about Gordon Brown, it's that he's no Winston Churchill.

UPDATE: The Independent is reporting (here) that the Conservatives have responded quickly to Brown's sacrifice for a Labour/LibDem coalition by agreeing to offer a referendum on electoral reform. If true, I would expect this offer to clinch a LibDem/Conservative coalition.

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