Tag Archives: gordon brown

The Pope in Britain

I’m a Catholic because I’m half-Irish-half-English and, as my dad isn’t much of a believer, I ended up getting baptised – not that I actually go to church. My attendance record is pretty much based on weddings and funerals.

But, when I was asked if I would be interested in working with the government Cabinet Office to follow Pope Benedict around the UK during his visit, providing live commentary via Twitter and blogs, I jumped at the chance. Though I’m not a follower, the teachings of his church have permeated their way into my consciousness just because I was always surrounded by Catholics when I was growing up – and who wouldn’t want to be embedded with a head of state providing a live Twitter feed of what really happens ‘backstage’?

But it was the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who invited the Pope to the UK. And Brown is no longer in office. And the current Prime Minister is either less interested in the Pope visiting, or more attuned to the scandal that will be caused by his visit. Most probably the latter as the child sex scandal furore only seems to be getting worse and the present Pope was previously in charge of handling complaints against the Vatican, and should therefore be acutely aware of the issues – and be handling them rather better.

So the regular media will continue to cover the visit, but all additional nice-to-have coverage (like a live blogger backstage) were all canned.

It’s a shame as I was looking forward to trying to offer some insights. The views of the church often rub directly against my own liberal opinions – I was working in Malta last week and I was surprised to hear that divorce is illegal there because the church won’t allow it. The Catholic church has some way to go to reach the standards considered acceptable in a modern-day society where free expression and respect for Human Rights are considered essential.

But the church has an immense history and tradition and is followed by hundreds of millions of people. I was looking forward to exploring these questions of how faith collides with modernity, but now I won’t get the chance anyway. Another thing I can blame on David Cameron.

What a shame.
Art installation, Central St Martin's

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What is Clegg doing? The answer is Mandelson!

This is the Mick Jagger election. None of the parties are getting any satisfaction.

Yet, even though he failed to win as many seats as expected, Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems are now the kingmakers.

He promised to talk first to whoever had the most seats – the Tories – but why would he really take that idea seriously now? The Tory MPs will not want to work closely with the Lib Dems and the Lib Dems I have been reading online are all horrified that there may now be a partnership with Cameron.

It’s a recipe for disaster and Clegg must surely realise this.

Perhaps it is why he is now playing hardball with his demands. As he entered talks with party officials today, Nick Clegg made a statement saying he has four big priorities: 1. Fair tax reform 2. Education 3. Approach to the economy 4. Political reform to the electoral system

I think he might be able to reach agreement with the Tories on points 1 and 2 as their manifesto pledges are not miles apart there, but Clegg has very open views on how to run the economy and it is through transparency and devolving power from the treasury. Plus he wants a root and branch reform of the electoral system, to introduce a system of proportional representation – consigning the first-past-the-post system to history.

The Prime Minister is extremely weak right now. Clegg could do a deal with Labour that gives him control over all four issues and become a reform parliament. Labour and the Liberal Democrats could join together to lead as a minority government, or they could bring the nationalists into the fold – who would almost certainly join a coalition if money was thrown to their regions.

If Clegg could boot out Brown and announce a reform government with an interim Prime Minister (Mandelson or Johnson?) and Vince Cable running the economy then I think a lot of Labour and Lib Dems would be happier than getting into bed with the Tories. And if the focus is on electoral and economic reform then they could pledge to call a new general election as soon as the electoral system is ready for change – let’s say after one year.

One year down the line, with a PR voting system, the Liberal Democrats would stand a very high chance of getting real power – with a lot more seats.

Clegg could get a lot more of his own MPs into parliament, totally reform the electoral system, get his man running the economy, and keep British politics generally focused on liberal values by kicking the Conservatives out for a generation.

So why is he still talking to Cameron?

Brown is now a spectator

Gordon Brown has said that he will wait to see if the Tories and Lib Dems can reach a deal. He offered to be there to talk to either leader if they wanted to come to him.

Nick Clegg is now the kingmaker – even though his party only won around half the seats they had hoped for. The electoral landscape in the UK is shifting like quicksand today.

Can Clegg do a deal with the Tories? His party really won’t like it, but he promised to talk first to the party with the most seats… that does not mean the deal is done. The Tories and Lib Dems won’t be able to reach a formal coalition as their manifestos are so far apart, but they could reach an agreement on where to cooperate, agreeing to disagree on the rest or to plan some managed reform on issues they disagree on.

Clegg said he doesn’t want to do a deal with a damaged Labour party, but Brown has offered genuine electoral reform.

If Clegg can’t agree a deal with Cameron then perhaps the most likely outcome now is that Clegg will side with the Labour party, forcing a new Prime Minister with a Lid Dem Chancellor – with a focus on a complete reform of the electoral process and a plan to run a new general election within two years… Allowing the Liberal Democrats to win a lot more seats using a more proportional voting system.

But the bottom line is, it’s all out of the Prime Minister’s hands now. He is just a spectator.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Leader Debates, round two

So it’s time for the second leader debate tomorrow. This one should focus on international affairs, so it’s likely Gordon Brown will be on the defensive when talking about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “special” relationship with the USA.

But Brown should have been on the back-foot in the first debate on domestic policy, yet Clegg’s style and Brown’s substance somehow combined to force Cameron into a box. The Conservative leader was most popular when talking on the ‘British jobs for British workers’ immigration debate and that causes an issue for the Tories. They have consistently tried playing to the middle-ground in an effort to win back the Conservative voters who deserted the party for the New Labour project, but if he feels support is coming from sounding tougher, harder right, and less empathetic, then what can he do?

Those views will resonate with old-school Tories, and probably the party membership. But he won’t win the election by sounding like Michael Howard used to. Especially when Cleggmania means the Lib Dems are now on a charm offensive with Vince Cable already the most trusted politician in the UK.

Clearly, with the present first-past-the-post voting system, there is no chance of a Lib Dem majority, but a surge in support for Clegg means we are aiming for another Labour government (if Lib Dem support is mainly poached from Tory areas) or a hung parliament in which a Lab-Lib coalition will carve up power between them.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Lord Neil Kinnock
Whatever your politics, this has to be the most closely-fought and exciting British political battle in a generation. And it’s all over the TV and Internet in a way that was not imaginable at even the most recent general election. I’ll be blogging the debate live for Reuters, so lookout on their politics page for my comments as the leaders speak…

Brown launches comeback fight

Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed his supporters at the Labour party conference in Brighton today.

Of course, he was preaching to the converted – the audience was almost entirely Labour party members so they would be expected to cheer and hang on his every word, but it was impressive nonetheless. He steered a strong path, positioning the Labour party far to the left of David Cameron’s Conservatives. Clearly, the Labour party has finally woken up – they needed to position themselves as more caring in an environment where people are losing jobs and homes in a recession, and Brown’s speech pushed forward a very distinctive – caring – Labour agenda.

He distanced the government from the financial meltdown, blaming the bankers and associating their free market attitudes with the Conservative opposition who called for a very different ‘hands-off’ approach to the crash in 2007. As Northern Rock collapsed, the Conservatives were still looking to the market for a solution.

He directly commented on his eyes – a subject of much discussion this week – by saying that the NHS is the best insurance policy in the world… his eyesight was saved by the NHS and he dealt with the issue of his health well by taking it head-on.

Fairness, caring, and responsibility echoed throughout this speech, but what he really gave back to the Labour party was hope. Hope that David Cameron may not be the next Prime Minister from 2010. Hope that it’s not all over for a tired Labour party. And hope that despite the setback of the international banking crisis, there has been a very long list of social achievements by this government.

No matter that many people are bored of the Labour government and many people just want a change, the differences between the parties are now growing wider and the Labour party is finally dealing with the assumption that it’s all over for them. They are not dead yet because they are finally staking a claim to the kind of social agenda that people want to see as the country tentatively exits a recession.

Labour is still down, but not yet out.