What a long time a month in politics can be. A month ago, Prime Minister Gordon Brown looked assured, confident and a winner. He had come through a tough period in his first 100 days and showed that he could handle tough stuff – a terrorist attack, mad cow disease, a history of drug use amongst cabinet members – and that he was able to let his Ministers lead. A good party conference led to speculation that a snap election would be called to give him a mandate – he has until 2010 and could have had a mandate to 2012.
Now he looks like a loser – the conservatives are 7 points ahead in the polls, David Cameron the young Tory leader looks assured, articulate and solid. Brown looks dishevelled and adrift. What happened?
Two things. Everyone supports a leader at a time of crisis if they show that they are competent. They don’t support one who appears duplicitous. Brown is duplicitous. He started and encouraged speculation about a snap election and had Ministers make clear election announcements – some troops back from Iraq and a major change in estate duty – before squashing the election once he read the poll data. He also says that the EU Treaty he will sign in Lisbon this week is so different from the EU Constitution that was rejected two years ago that it no longer requires a referendum. He is lying – its pretty close to identical, at least according to a parliamentary select committee. Since a referendum was promised on the constitution at the last election by the Labour party, he is repudiating a promise.
His troop withdrawal from Iraq turns out also to be smoke and mirrors. Its not a new number – some of the troops are already home. Cameron savaged him in the house and he withdrew into his shell.
The British press are all over this like a dirty shirt. Comparisons with Anthony Eden are floating, as are comparisons with Blair (Blair is looking good, apparently – how quickly we forget!). Some have started the search for a successor (Brown passed his first 100 days recently). Others are looking to beef up Cameron as the next PM. So its quite a time.
Brown will ride it out, but something significant is going on and it will be interesting to watch.