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New Politics by Gordon Brown

by Gary J Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 08:56:57 AM EST

Gordon Brown has demonstrated either low political cunning or a genuine commitment to a new politics (the jury is out on which) by offering places in his government to certain Liberal Democrat peers, most notably Paddy Ashdown.

The story seems to be that last Monday Brown had a meeting with LibDem leader Ming Campbell. During this meeting the suggestion was made that such LibDem luminaries as Paddy Ashdown and Rabbi Julia Neuberger might be given jobs as Ministers of State (second rank ministers) outside the cabinet. Ming said he would think about this (in British terms) remarkable proposition.

A meeting of LibDem MPs on Wednesday decisively rejected the offer.

Either before or after that decision was taken (the chronology seems to be a bit confused) Gordon Brown met Paddy Ashdown and offered him the cabinet post of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Ashdown grew up in Northern Ireland (thus the nickname of Paddy) and has some experience of being a Viceroy so he would be a good fit for the post. However Ashdown rejected this offer made behind Ming Campbell's back.

I suspect Brown was thinking, as a fan of US politics, that it might be nice to have a powerless opposition figure or two in his cabinet just as US President's tend to do.

The low cunning model however suggests the conversations were a multi sided trap.

If the LibDems let their people join the government, when Brown has a majority independent of the LibDems and has made no commitments on policy, then the LibDems would find it very difficult to credibly present themselves as an independent party. It would then be extremely difficult to oppose Labour on Iraq and civil liberties, as well as being electoral suicide.

If some LibDems joined against the wishes of the party leader then this would disrupt an opposition party; which would then have electoral problems.

If, as has happened, the LibDems all reject the approaches then the Tories still have an opportunity (which they are taking) to say that a vote for Campbell is a vote for a Brown led coalition (because Campbell did not reject the plan out of hand).

Michael Portillo also considers that there is a subtler trap for the Conservatives who have to fear a coalition after the next election, if there is a hung Parliament.

The chattering classes (ignoring the policy differences between the parties) seem to be simultaneously damning the LibDems for not being serious politicians by not seeking office at all costs and for being only interested in office (because they talked about the possibility).

BBC take on the story

The Lib Dems should only accept a Lab/Lib alliance on condition that proportional representation is introduced into the Westminster parliament.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 09:24:07 AM EST
And with this.. our mutual political history comes to light sicne I was going to write the same thing :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 11:42:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We had the same TV.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 11:43:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You may have read in the newspapers about how Gordon Brown spoke to me earlier this week about offering ministerial jobs to Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords.

I share his high assessment of the abilities of our parliamentarians! But I have rejected his offer, just as I did that from David Cameron, when he asked me in April to consider proposing a joint candidate for London mayor with the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats are a strong, independent party. There is no way that Liberal Democrats can serve in a Labour government - especially this Labour government, which is doing so much that we are fundamentally opposed to: ID cards, mismanagement of the NHS, neglect of the environment, centralisation of power, attacks on civil liberties, nuclear power and Council Tax.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 09:38:21 AM EST
I suspect Brown was thinking, as a fan of US politics, that it might be nice to have a powerless opposition figure or two in his cabinet

He was perhaps just looking across the Channel, where Sarkozy is using this tactic to smoke-screen the place up and look like he's more consensual than he is...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 11:07:13 AM EST
Whatever Brown's idea, its clear that Ashdown and Campbell are missing the lesson of Bayrou. Lots of people say they want a centrist alternative to tired left/right dichotomy; even typing that feels morally satisfying.

But in a bipolar political system, which is nearly inevitable in a unitary circumscription, first past the post electoral system -- and Britain invented both the system and the result -- a centrist party has little to no chance of winning power. 55% of the country wanted Bayrou to be president, but only 18% of the country was willing to vote for him personally and only 5% was willing to vote for his candidates.

The model for the Liberals ought to be their long ago predecessors who held power for at least a generation after they no longer had anywhere near a majority of the electorate (due in part to their own efforts to push through the 2nd and 3rd Reform Bills). They overcome the consistent support of petty merchants and agricultural workers for the Tories by forming the Union with the then-nascent Labour party. (In France, the same was true of the radicals and socialists in the same period.)

So whatever this means for Brown, it certainly means that the Liberals will remain a distant third in all except a few localities.

by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 03:17:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In current British politics, LibDems aren't Centrists, but to the left of Labour.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 25th, 2007 at 01:02:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are still a large number of members of his own party who see the Lib Dems as the part of Old Labour who betrayed the country to Thatcherism by leaving and joining with the Liberals.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 12:01:31 PM EST
From The Independent:
The Labour MP for Nottingham South, Alan Simpson, said Labour MPs and members would be horrified if Lord Ashdown became a member of a Labour government.

He said: "The party would be livid if this happened. We need a Lab-Lab pact not a Lib Lab pact. Brown ought to make overtures towards the bulk of the Labour Party which is to the left of New Labour. The truth is that is where most of the electorate is to be found these days."

The former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle warned: "In the Parliamentary Labour Party this will be seen as a snub to many people who have hoped there would be a change of direction.

"I'm very concerned about this. I'm a Labour party person and I want nothing to do with the Lib Dems. They are our opponents in the North of England and we don't have any ideological common ground with them."

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 12:06:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I certainly see the Lib Dems - apart from the Vince Cable, David Laws "corporate wing" - as firmly to the "Left" of New Lab.

And died in the wool de-centralisers as well.

I've had a lot to do with them in Scotland, and they briefly adopted the "Guarantee Society" as policy about 15 months ago, only to drop it again for the May election.

They really buggered up their strategy after May 3 though, and Salmond is running rings around them: they are getting withdrawal symptoms from their Lab/Lib "Partnership" ministerial cars I think...

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 01:30:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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