Wednesday, May 12, 2010

House of Comments Commentary

I was on the House of Comments podcast last night as the whole handover of government was in progress. I was on with Stuart Sharpe, Mark Thompson and Tom Harris MP.

In prep for it, I scanned Don and the Liberal Conspracy on what the Con-Dem Nation will mean for us, and nicked Torcuil’s ‘Birkenstock traitors’ line (without crediting it, natch!). The Lib-Dems are certainly not in for an easy electoral ride for the foreseeable, are they?
“The Lib Dems on the other hand, these Birkenstock traitors, will find themselves flossing the teeth of a Tory shark while being in office. It will be quite an uncomfortable place to be.”
I didn’t get the chance to have a pop at the Tories who’ve been banging on about Brown being an unelected PM and a squatter. After all, Cameron has less of a claim to have been elected than Brown had in the last administration. At least the majority of MPs under Brown stood on the platform of giving us a Labour PM - more than you can say now.

The amount of spinning that our courageous Fourth Estate have been prepared to indulge (and indulge in?) over the last few days has been eye-watering.

Here are a few things that need contradicting:
  1. As Paul pointed out, there are no examples of a Prime Minister taking office without having stood for election as the Prime Minister in recent memory, apart from Balfour (1902), Asquith (1908), Lloyd George (1916), Bonar Law (1922), Baldwin (1923 and 1935), Chamberlain (1937), Churchill (1940), Eden (1955), Macmillan (1957), Douglas Home (1963), Callaghan (1976), Major (1990), Brown (2007 and for a few days in 2010). All took office without leading a winning party in a previous general election.

  2. Show me someone who talks about a ‘constitutional precedent’ at the moment and I’ll show you either a Tory or one of their lackeys in the press. Examples? A PM should be directly elected (see above). Or "...b..but surely the public would find it hard to understand if they had a 'government of losers” / "b..but surely the public would find it very hard to understand that they had a PM who wasn't even on the Leaders debate programme?"

  3. There isn’t any kind of threshold under which it is not possible to respectably form a government. A number of Tories were saying that, getting 29% of the vote, it would be ‘impossible’ for Labour to form a government. (I made this point badly – I’d intended to illustrate it with the point that Labour got a higher share of the vote in 1979 than the Tories got this time – it came out as though I was arguing that parties had won elections on <29%>
  4. That we need a referendum before we implement a change to the voting system. We don’t. People ‘may find it hard to understand’ that we’re not having one, but this illustrates just how pernicious the creeping notion that we need referendums to rubber-stamp constitutional change has become. Conservatives – CONSERVATIVES, for god’s sake – have latched onto this argument with enthusiasm since the 1990s. Before that, they correctly identified the referendum as the tool of the demagogue. Just to be clear, referendums hand enormous powers to newspaper proprietors. A voting reform referendum opposed by the tories and the commanding heights of the media would be almost totally certain to fail.

  5. We are not a Presidential system. If anyone were to propose that we become one, we wouldn’t ‘constitutionally’ need a referendum to do so. If we were to hold a referendum to get one, those supporting it would lose. Ergo, we are not a Presidential system - something that makes a nonsense out of almost all of the commentary on Brown's right to try and form a governement.
A few other questions: Are the Lib-Dems going to take the opportunity to give the Tories a bit of discomfort on their weak-points? For instance, there is no reason why they shouldn’t give the Murdoch press a fraction of the malice that they insist their puppets in government visit upon their rivals be required to comply with media regulations that apply to other companies.

Isn’t it funny, by the way, how – when your boss isn’t happy, you aren’t either?

Are the Lib-Dems going to be complicit in Tory (and, until recently, New Labour) sleaze in their dealings with Murdoch or on the general power of lobbyists? I’d like to think not, but I think that we’ve seen that Lib-Dems aren’t going to exact any price at all from the Tories.

And what about Cameron? Is he under threat now? He’s not an elected PM. It’s a hollow victory for the Tories and they have a highly contestable legitimacy to brag with. Is Tory civil war about to break out? It would be churlish to hope so. And are they stupid to war amongst themselves? (I’m with John Stuart Mill on this one).

From Labour’s point of view, a lot of activists I’ve spoken to are saying that every party has to lose elections, and there are worse ones to lose than this one. Some Tories certainly regretted winning in 1992. Being in government can be over-rated and opposition may provide us with a long-overdue opportunity for renewal.

And finally, reasons to be cheerful. I think that the election under-stated Labour’s strength in the country. We suffered because of the expenses scandal and we can recover from that. And we are, whatever the Lib-Dems may think, basically, a centre-left social democratic country.

Update: Here's that 'Michael Gove on the NUJ picket-line' pic.


The Plump said...

Are the Lib-Dems going to take the opportunity to give the Tories a bit of discomfort on their weak-points?

No - tossers

Ivan said...

Thank you for cheering me up!