Thursday 20 November 2008

Back to the future

The Guardian asked me to write a commentary for Comment is Free about the prospects for a snap election.

I am sure that is (still) froth and nonsense.

But I also look at how the political dividing lines are now taking shape after the Tory u-turn on spending and taxation.

The central strategic message of Cameron's leadership has been to tell his party that it was futile to refight the battles lost over tax and spend in 2001 and 2005. That was his clause four moment. And now, Cameron has changed his mind. So the most telling moment at Cameron's press conference on Tuesday came when the Tory leader was challenged to identify any time in the last three years when he has advocated spending restraint. Cameron's response was to reclaim his personal authorship of the party's 2005 general election manifesto for Michael Howard, usually an embarrassment for a leader who wants to stand only for change.


Labour's strategic decision is about whether running on experience is enough. It isn't. The party needs to contest the argument about change – to set out that there are two different approaches to the role of government, to the political response to an economic downturn and the broader politics of fairness and opportunity.

1 comment:

Robert Alcock said...

The decision over when to call a general election has been described the loneliest one a British PM has to make.

Personally, I don't think Gordon should rule anything in or out. But that does not mean allowing aides to stoke the flames of speculation as happened so disastrously last autumn.

The PM will need no reminding of the experience of Jim Callaghan exactly 30 years ago. Callaghan decided against calling an election in October 1978, when Labour had a lead in most opinion polls. The Winter of Discontent followed and the die was set for the political 'sea change' that Sunny Jim - a wartime sailor - described as sweeping Thatcher to power.

While the system of five-year maximum parliamentary terms remains in place, considerations of when to make that visit to Buck Palace will always have a distorting effect on governance.

Better then to switch to the system of fixed-term parliaments exercised by so many of our fellow democracies. But with the pace of constitutional reform being as it is, I’ll bet a PM is still wrestling with the election-call conundrum in 2038.