Monday, October 27, 2008

The Monday morning blog: Brown in Glenrothes, Miliband in China

Maybe the international community is fed up with Gordon Brown lecturing them on what to do in the financial crisis (part or wholly nationalise the banks having spent 6 months resisting such moves for Northern Rock) but the non-appearance of Brown at the emergency international meeting in China over the weekend was very obvious. I was beginning to think that no one from the UK was present until I saw a photo in the weekend press of David Miliband at the conference. I certainly saw Merkel and Sarkozy making their mark.

Brown however was in Glenrothes, with a cameo role on the by-election stage. This is a major change from the practice that Prime Ministers do not get involved in by-election campaigns. I can think of only two other recent examples: in 1997 in Uxbridge, just after the general election, when Blair turned up and Labour arrogantly thought they could win everything (they lost the by-election), and in 1963 when Alec Douglas-Home spent a significant proportion of his first weeks as PM in a Scottish by-election (but that was understandable as he was the candidate having just renounced his peerage and seat in the Lords!)

It strikes me that Labour must be much more confident about holding Glenrothes. I find it difficult to believe they would be foolish enough to send their chief onto a ship if they believed it was certain to sink. He avoided Glasgow East like the plague, knowing Labour's case there was a dead cause. But now there is a new dynamic at least in Scotland, that was not there previously. The financial crisis has laid bare the claims that any nation can be truely independent and insulated from the rest of the world. In the global financial system, Iceland has brought home the fact that a country with a small population and relatively small economy can go bankrupt. Had Scotland been independent, the Scottish people would have paid an astronomical price to bail out RBS, HBOS and so on. Fortunately for the Scots, they are still part of the UK and therefore had the rest of the UK to support their banking system.

That may well take the gloss off the SNP's appeal. This may be one of the key reasons for the rise in Labour's confidence. That, plus the apparent movement of support towards Brown during the crisis, has given Labour the confidence to take the risk of putting Brown into the by-election firing line. The dangers of a Labour rebellion if the seat is lost is much reduced at the moment anyway. Brown, whatever his fault (and there are plenty of them) has ruthlessley used the financial crisis as an avalanche to bury his internal critics.

Brown however is not free of serious misjudgements. He allowed speculation to run riot about a general election last year and I was convinced there would be one as I did not believe that the Labour leadership would be so stupid to let everyone think there was going to be an election and then have to back down. How wrong I was on that!

Labour are however still well behind the Tories. And as the recession bites further, people lose their jobs and times get even harder, the Labour rebels may start to be heard a bit more. The discontent in the Labour party may be buried at the moment, but it won't stay like that for long.

Meanwhile, I am now on the train to London. It is running late and left behind the slower service that is scheduled to leave 12 minutes after my train. The danger is we'll be stuck behind that one all the way to London. And I do recall that a study over the weekend highlighted the failure of Labour's transport policies.

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Anonymous said...

Luke Akehurst's recent blogs suggest Labour will find it hard to hold on. Not sure how much of that is true and how much expectations management, but GB heading to Glenrothes is risky. Perhaps the difference is the election being in Fife rather than Glasgow?

Anonymous said...

But Norway, another small independent country, and independent of the EU, isn't in financial trouble, Jonathan.

Of course, it didn't allow its oil profits to be privatised in the same way we did and which now rankles with the Scots.

Nor do I think the SNP down and out or the case for Scottish independence irreparably damaged.

The forthcoming global slump will do nationalism the world of good across these islands, methinks.