On Sunday, the BBC broadcasted an interview between Gordon Brown and Andrew Marr. It was decried as uneventful; dull, even. I confess immediately that I did not watch the programme, nor have I seen it on the excellent “watch again” feature on the BBC News website. I have, however, skimmed over the transcript of the interview that has been placed on their website – probably in response to the aforementioned complaints.
From what I can see of the transcript, Marr was hardly softly listening to Labour propaganda: he was challenging and wide-reaching in his questioning. Just because he isn’t combative, he shouldn’t be dismissed as a lightweight. And there was some substance hidden in there.
One paragraph stood out in particular:
AM: How is the style of government going to feel different? People out there watching – are they going to look at a Brown government and just feel that the sort of fabric of daily government is different? Is it going to be a government where you take more notice perhaps of the Cabinet? Is it going to be a government where there is, dare I say it, less spinning?
GB: It’s going to be, and has to be, a government of all the talents. And that doesn’t mean just the talents of one political party. I think you’ve got to use the talents of the wider community in government.
Yes, typical politician. Answering the question he wanted to be asked with inclusive-sounding rhetoric that will appeal to people but has no real substance to it. Or are we failing to read deep enough into the mind of this undoubtedly highly intelligent man?
It was even suggested that Blair might show a bit of cross-party support in allowing Paddy Ashdown onto his cabinet, but this never materialised.
In Blair’s pre-PM years as leader of the Labour Party, he spoke at length of the political alliance with the Lib Dems he was expecting to be forced into. Indeed, he reluctantly agreed a pledge for proportional representation, but following the 1997 election, any electoral reform would have been absolute suicide for the party. It was even suggested that Blair might show a bit of cross-party support in allowing Paddy Ashdown onto his cabinet, but this never materialised.
Now, it seems more likely than at any point in the last decade that the next general election will see a hung parliament. Is this comment from Brown actually a hint to the Lib Dems? Is he suggesting that he would be willing to form a coalition to keep the Tories from power? He knows that the next election will be close. The longer he leaves it, the smaller the Labour share of the vote will be. If he held an election in Spring 2008, Labour would probably be the largest party, but with a minority. A Lib/Lab pact would be just about workable, but Brown would have to work on cross-party relations. Is this only the first of such comments designed to infiltrate Lib Dem thinking?
It seems as if he is softening the ground for bringing Ming into his cabinet – and Foreign Secretary seems the obvious role: it is Ming’s expertise, and it is high-profile enough to keep him fairly loyal.
There is another alternative, though. If Brown calls an election for November this year, he would probably scrape a narrow victory, reminiscent of Major in 1992. With a majority smaller than his cabinet, and an increasingly frustrated party, he would find it difficult to pass legislation in tight votes. If this were to happen, would he take Ming on as Foreign Secretary? He would be able to appease the Lib Dems and to gather their support in close votes. He would be the leader of inclusion, the champion of democracy. He might even put forward some thoughts on electoral reform, meeting the Lib Dems half way with a hybrid system.
He says “It’s going to be, and has to be, a government of all the talents”. “And has to be”? He is clearly thinking that he will have to make concessions to stay in government. Now is the time to start working on those relations if he anticipates them. He is clearly trying to cosy up to the Lib Dems. The only question is, why?
If this apparently dismissible comment is to be taken seriously, it may offer insight to Brown’s plans. The phrase “you’ve got to use the talents of the wider community in government” sounds rather more like he is talking about individuals rather than a party. It sounds like he expects that his government will “have to be” inclusive of “talents” outside the Labour Party. Thus it seems as if he is softening the ground for bringing Ming into his cabinet – and Foreign Secretary seems the obvious role: it is Ming’s expertise, and it is high-profile enough to keep him fairly loyal.
If this is so, then it looks as if Brown thinks he will receive a tiny majority, indicating an early election. None of the parties can afford an election, so if one takes place they run the risk of being bankrupted. But if financial issues killed mainstream political campaigning, would it be a bad thing? Or, indeed, wouldn’t Brown’s first piece of legislation allow state funding of political parties? The arguments over motives will, of course, continue ad infinitum.
Of course, it could just be that a slimy New Labour politician was greasing his way out of a question he didn’t want to answer with nice-sounding rhetoric.
But that wouldn’t be much fun, would it?