There are different ways to look at Britain. If you are a tourist right now, there are good bargains to be had – low cost hotel rooms, special deals of restaurant meals and travel incentives, though I wouldn’t say it was cheap. If you are a green campaigner, then Britain is taking climate change seriously and will announce major initiatives this week on top of the $9,000 incentive to buy an electric car and the encouragement to home improvements using government grants.
British politicians, however, look at the country and their situation within it and think that things are about to change. New Labour, which has been in power since 1998, is clearly coming to the end of its period of Government. An economy with very high unemployment, massive debts equivalent to 12% of its GDP and growing quickly, sleaze everywhere from Ministers charging the public so that their husbands can watch blue movies to 10 Downing Street running a smear campaign with untruths and lies about the opposition – it does not look good for New Labour. They have until June 2010 to “fix it”, but miracles don’t come to order.
If you are a Conservative right now, there are two things that need to be remembered. Don’t do anything stupid and the Government continue to get it wrong while you suggest policies and actions that sound less menacing, stupid or downright daft. If you are a New Labour member right now, then your main task is to position yourself to be a survivor after what many are predicting will be the biggest defeat of a government party since Kim Campbell reduced the Canadian Tories to being able to meet in a local phone booth. Apres le deluge is what one newspaper in Britain called it and on various talks shows and radio interviews one can hear Labour politicians positioning themselves for the future and trying to make it clear that they were not there when all the really bad decisions were made.
A lot of emphasis is being placed on Wednesday’s budget and many within the New Labour party are looking to Alistair Darling to save the day. But he can’t. He will have to tax more, cut spending and explain how the current anticipating debt level - £315 billion - £360 billion – will be reduced and paid down. It will not be pretty.
Gordon Brown had a triumphant week as a European statesman during the G20 summit, despite its modest outcomes. It all turned sour shortly thereafter when leaked memo’s and emails revealed the dirty tricks campaign mounted by Brown’s communications team which, though he denies knowledge of and claims no Ministers were involved, is been seen as a symbolic statement of the desperation felt by Labour’s leader. Lord Mandelson, still known in Britain as The Prince of Darkness for his mastery of the black arts of media manipulation, wishes it would all go away and we can get back to business – but the business has become survival.
Brown will not survive the post election house cleaning next year, but will not step down before the election to give new hope to Labour. Not only is he too proud to do so, it is in his nature to accept leadership responsibility for the party, if not for his actions when, as Chancellor, he created the conditions that have made Britain’s position in this recession amongst the worst in the EU. He also would like to claim the “green” legacy – which he may be entitled to.
All eyes here are on David Cameron, leader of the British Conservative party and a Blair-like communicator. If he doesn’t do anything stupid, stays with a strong focus on the economy, health, education and social order and doesn’t have to respond to sleaze within his own party for the next year, he will likely be the next British Prime Minister. But he is not yet behaving like one – not yet having the command of the issues and respect amongst the electorate as Prime Minister in waiting.
I haven’t mentioned the Liberals. There is no need to. I haven’t mentioned the Greens. No one else does either. I also have not mentioned the Monster Raving Loony Party – a remnant of the 1960’s which occasionally fields candidates – but then it wouldn’t be polite to. It really is a David and Gordon battle and Gordon already looks like the loser.