Wednesday, September 27, 2006

British Politics: The rise or demise of Gordon Brown?

By James Stickings

There is an interesting article at The Guardian on a new opinion poll in Britain by GFK/NOP: 56% of those polled said they wanted an election within at least six months of Gordon Brown taking over as Prime Minister.

For those of you unfamiliar with the British political system, a new leader of the governing party automatically becomes the new prime minister, and he or she is not required to call a general election of Parliament until the statutory five-year time period since the last election is up. So John Major became Prime Minister in 1990 after winning the leadership of the Conservative Party after the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. He didn’t call an election until two years later.

It’s no surprise that the public seem to question this constitutional provision. For all that Major held his position legitimately and constitutionally, he led the government for two years without the explicit consent of the people given by victory at a general election. While it is true that he was effectively governing under the mandate given to Thatcher and the Conservatives at the 1987 election, the potential power of the modern prime minister – no longer merely primus inter pares of collective cabinet government but more and more a “presidential” figure – means that this situation fitted uncomfortably into an ostensibly democratic system until he went on to win the 1992 election in his own right.

So voters are right to demand that Gordon Brown, should he ever become prime minister, ought to seek a fresh mandate. The problem for Brown is that calling a general election so soon could mean defeat against a Conservative Party under David Cameron that is looking more and more like the alternative government that their current title “Her Majesty’s Official Opposition” implies. A
Guardian/ICM poll earlier in the week put Cameron ahead of Brown on a number of key questions, including who has more potential as prime minister (35% to 32%). One thing is for sure: Brown will not want his premiership to be merely a minor footnote between the Blair and Cameron years. The question for him, assuming he takes over from Blair (something which is by no means certain), will probably be how to balance this ambition with the British people’s desire for a say in the matter.

Bookmark and Share


  • I suspect thats it's not so much that people want to approve/disapprove of Brown as that they just to get this government out of office as quickly as possible.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:24 PM  

  • But is Cameron that popular yet? Even a solid Tory victory would likely mean only 40 percent of the popular vote. I agree that people are sick of Labour, but there isn't all that much love for the Conservatives either.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 4:48 PM  

  • I don't think the tories are particularly beloved but I can't remember the last time a government was so loathed by people who should be amongst their natural supporters.

    In 1997 the tory government was exhausted and out of ideas and was viewed with an air of weary contempt by an electorate that had grown utterly bored & disgusted with them. Even as a tory voter I felt relief when it was finally put out of its misery.

    This labour government on the other hand seems to inspire more genuine anger and dislike. Friends of mine who used to be solid labour voters (and one or two ex-party members) are now planning on voting for the Lib Dems, or the SNP or anyone else (save the tories) rather than lab.

    Even replacing brown with blair is too little too late i think. After all Brown has been at the core of the gov since 1997 and the rest of the cabinet seem to inspire derisive mockery more than anything else.

    The old saw about governments losing elections rather than opposition winning seems to hold true here.

    It's not that cameron is popular but at least he's not one of the current crew seems to be a pretty widespread feeling.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home