Commentary by Hilary White
“Brown’s bottled it”, “Brown is losing it”, “Shaking with fear? Is Brown cracking up?”. Columnists and commentators have watched in surprise as Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has sunk from a high point of command in the first months of his rule to being consistently behind the opposition Tories.
The media in this country is traditionally not gentle with politicians, even when they are at the top of their form, but rhetoric aside, indications are growing that Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party – for neither of which title he has yet sought an electoral mandate – is losing his grip on power.
In general, Labour’s fortunes have been dropping since 2003 and the decision to enter the war in Iraq. Tony Blair’s Labour won the 2005 general election with only 35.3 per cent of the total vote and a majority of 66 seats, down from their 1997 landslide majority of 179 seats.
But the latest indication may be the mounting rebellion in his caucus against the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill. Despite the bill’s prominence in the Queen’s Speech, a growing number of conscientious MPs, including front benchers and Cabinet ministers, have told Brown that the offer of allowing abstentions on the bill isn’t good enough; only a free vote will do.
This week, Labour brought forward a budget that the Conservatives have condemned as a “kick in the teeth for families”. A Populus poll, taken on Wednesday evening showed that Britons are dismally resigned both to higher taxes and to being worse off over the coming year. This malaise of low-key hopelessness is likely to play very well for David Cameron, whose popularity has risen steadily since the fall and the Election-That-Never-Was.
Last summer, Gordon Brown was said to have the British people eating out of his hands. He was perceived as a strong leader, one who knew how to handle a crisis, after a string of national disasters that included an unprecedented outbreak of gun and youth crimes; floods and failed crops from record summer rains; an outbreak of foot and mouth and Bluetongue diseases on British farms; attempted terrorist bombings and an unsuccessful attack at Glasgow International Airport, and the collapse of Northern Rock bank.
But from this high point in prestige in late July when he allowed rumours of an autumn election to grow, Gordon Brown has steadily lost the trust of the British public and, apparently, the ability to maintain the traditional New Labour lockstep discipline in his party. The turning point came on October 6th, when Brown retreated in a panic at the rallying popularity of the Conservative opposition and declared, to roars of derisive laughter across the country, that there would be no election.
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For those who hold human life sacred from conception to the grave and recognize the inviolability and foundational realities of natural marriage, the slide of Labour can only be good news, no matter what the Tories’ deficiencies may be. Ten years of “New” Labour has been a decade of a massive social re-engineering project after which even the left has admitted British society is almost unrecognizable.
With ten years of Labour bludgeoning Britain with catastrophic legislative changes under three successive majority governments: with abortions at nearly 200,000 a year; with hate crimes and “equality” laws that have effectively ended the ability of Christians to expound the objective moral disorder of homosexual activity; with the runaway train that is the British cloning and embryo-experimentation; with the effective dissolution of marriage; with the unprecedented numbers of unwed teenaged pregnancies and skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted diseases due to Labour’s fanatical devotion to sex-education; with all this, the slide of Gordon Brown and his party, even if only into the green benches on the other side of the House of Commons, can only be a fervently longed-for breather.
Pulling the camera back from life and family related issues, it is clear that after ten New Labour years, the wholesale abolition of the traditional defining institutions of British society – starting with marriage and family life, through to British Common Law, the military, the church, an independent judiciary, and ending with the very power of Parliament to enact laws and defend our borders, Britain’s very sovereignty as a nation – has been the defining endeavour of Brown’s party.
Columnist and author Melanie Philips wrote in the Daily Mail March 10, “There are now two Britains. There is the Britain that loves and would defend to the death its own historic national identity – and the Britain that either wants to destroy it or refuses to acknowledge that it is under such threat. And it is the latter which currently wields the levers of power.”
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Brown was riding high at the beginning of September and polls indicated that he would see another healthy majority for his party if an election were called for the fall. But a month in politics is a long time and six months an eternity; political fortunes can often turn on a dime. In the case of Gordon Brown, his 5p moment came at the Conservative party convention at the end of September, when Opposition leader David Cameron gave a speech that was hailed as a sudden brake on the Tories’ downward slide.
The final straw seems to have come last week, in a move that was described as leaving even experienced Parliamentarians “open mouthed” with shock at the cynicism of this government. Brown, with substantial help from the Liberal Democrats, pushed the Lisbon Treaty through Parliament and reneged on a longstanding Labour electoral promise to allow the British people a say in handing over yet more of the natural powers of Parliament to the European Union.
By the end of the Conservative party conference, the party’s slide had halted abruptly and the party had drawn level in the polls with Labour, at 38 per cent voter support. In his Blackpool speech, with the country wearying of the ongoing hints of an election, at the same moment throwing down the gauntlet and bringing down the house, Cameron bluntly challenged Brown: “Call that election. We will fight – Britain will win.”
Within a week, Brown had declared that there would be no general election that autumn.
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There have been moments that have been fun to watch. Following the announcement on the non-election and mocking Brown’s insistence that he would have cancelled the election even if polls had shown a 100 seat Labour majority, Cameron derided in the House, “He’s the first Prime Minister in history to flunk an election because he thought he was going to win it.”
While Brown glowered from across the floor, Cameron freely scoffed at Labour’s promise to “look at” inheritance tax, saying, “The difference between our policy and his policy is that we thought of it and he stole it.”
After two years of being accused of being all style and no policies, Cameron has at last begun to carve out a platform that, while not the dream of social conservatives, still less pro-life activists, has at least hinted that conservative principles may still resonate with the British public and not be the killer of electoral hopes.
Starting with a promise to reform Labour’s tax policies punishing two-parent families, Cameron has steadily gained support for his “responsibility” creed of less government interference in private life, welfare reform to end the “benefits lifestyle” and a general pulling back from the much derided British “surveillance state”, the Big Brother mentality that has so characterized Brown’s tenure.
One promise above all that may indicate the differences between Cameron’s Tories and the governing regime is their outspoken opposition to the National ID card programme. The thought of the free British people stamped, chipped, monitored and tracked by government seems genuinely to be as anathema to him as to the public who roundly despise the idea.
Meanwhile, a general election remains far off. The Labour party will be solidifying its platform this summer, but some have speculated it will be 2010 before the public can go to the polls.
But although Brown is still reeling from his political setbacks and the economy is in trouble with increasing cost of living and inflation and the looming credit crisis, David Cameron told the Daily Mail today that, despite being consistently ahead in the polls since September, his party “has a long way to go” to establish an electable lead over Labour.
“There’s no doubt it’s a tall order, a big ask, but we can do it…Because there is not going to be an election this year, you have to concentrate on the long-term,” he said.
Despite the deep scepticism of Britain’s electorate, hope that there may be a solution in David Cameron and the Conservatives, is starting to glimmer. Melanie Philips writes, “There are growing signs that David Cameron recognises at least some of this. If he can summon up the courage to take this agenda and run with it, he will find not only that he speaks for the nation – he may save it.”