Thoughts on an early election

Gordon Brown is a quivering jelly of indecision

My friends, I have a feeling that everyone is under some misapprehension.

People seem to assume that the Prime Minister is cunningly manipulating events. They think he is some gigantic puppetmaster, ingeniously pulling our strings as he prepares for his “snap” election.

That’s why we are seeing the ballot boxes wiped down on the TV news. That’s why troop withdrawal announcements are being brilliantly and disgracefully spun. That’s why ad space is booked and halls reserved and Labour candidates are even now being thrust on constituencies.

The world assumes that the die is cast; and yet if you talk to Labour MPs they will admit the awful truth – namely, that even at this eleventh hour, at the climax of the Tory conference, the Prime Minister has yet to make up his mind. Yes, after three weeks of solid havering this putative election has less snap than a piece of celery lost at the bottom of the fridge.

I stick by my psychological diagnosis of earlier in the week. It is not so much that Gordon Brown is internally divided on the question. His condition is far worse than that. He is a great quivering protoplasmic jelly of indecision, and if you come with me now into the Brown study in Downing Street, you will see what I mean.

The floor of the Brown study is littered with fingernail chewings and scrumpled poll findings, and there in the corner is the burbling TV.

David Cameron in Blackpool is really hitting his stride, and the Tories are starting to buzz with pleasure and interest as the themes come into focus: burning the rulebook of pointless regulation, looking after the most vulnerable, rebuilding a sense of personal responsibility, helping first-time buyers by getting rid of the ludicrous Home Information Packs and cutting stamp duty, and, as the crowd start to yodel their enthusiasm, Gordon can take it no more. With a great Scottish oath he turns down the sound, and shouts “Balls!” and, as if by magic, Ed Balls appears from behind the arras, clutching a sheaf of papers.

Before Brown can explain the confusion, his number one lieutenant has launched into the statistics – and it’s good news from the focus groups. They think Brown is dull; they think he is bank managerly, but never mind, says Balls: dull is the new cool, and the essential fact is that women in key marginals think he is dependable.

Worcester Woman associates him with Ovaltine, says Balls, and once again he makes his pitch. “You’ve got to go for it,” he begs. “You’ve got to go for it now, when the Tories are down. Let’s do as Neil Kinnock says. Let’s grind those Tory bastards into the dust. Let’s plunge our pitchforks into their recumbent forms,” says Balls, his eyes starting to glisten, “and then do it again and again until…”

But the Prime Minister raises his trembling finger to silence his aide, and with a flick of the zapper he turns up the sound, because now more good sense is coming out of Blackpool.

The Tories are proposing a new kind of national service, to help build cohesion and personal discipline, and there is going to be a campaign against the closure of district hospitals and common sense on immigration; and as Brown gazes at the resurgent opposition the colour drains from his face, and the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and like the vacillating Scottish tyrant in the play, he is assailed by doubt. “If we should fail…” he falters.

“We fail!” cries Lady MacBalls, “but screw your courage to the sticking-place and…”

“Wait!” cries a haggard figure staggering in from stage left. It’s Alistair Darling, reeling from the Northern Rock debacle and bearing terrible tidings from his own constituency. “We can’t have an election now!” he cries. “The Scots are in revolt. We could lose our ancient power base. I could lose my own seat,” he protests; and Brown goggles at Darling, and says, “Darling, I can’t bear it.”

And for a moment his eyes flit from Balls to Darling, from Darling to Balls, like a spectator at Wimbledon, until Balls impatiently interrupts the rally. “But we’ve got to go now,” he says, “before your honeymoon is over. We’ve got to go to the country before the Brown bounce dribbles away and dies like a ping-pong ball lost behind the sofa. Look at that speech from Mike Bloomberg on Monday, about the economic storm clouds crossing the Atlantic. Who knows – there may be a real property crash next year. Of course it’s risky to go now – but it might be riskier to wait.”

And just as Brown is about to assent to this powerful point, Darling interrupts again, his eyebrows waggling with emotion like the mating ritual of a pair of giant black hairy caterpillars.

“No!” he cries: “That’s exactly why we should hold on. How can the electorate trust us if they just think we are cutting and running?”

“Who cares!” cries Balls. “It’s now or never. Things can only get worse. Come on, Gordon!”

“But Prime Minister!” says Darling, making one last appeal to reason. “The polls are treacherous, and Worcester Woman is notoriously fickle. Do you really want to go down as one of the shortest lived prime ministers on record?”

“Too late, Darling,” snaps Balls, and now he really lays it on the line with his boss. “The press have been whipped into such a fever of electoral excitement that if you wimp out now they’ll say you’re frit. They’ll say you’re just a big girl’s blouse.”

And Brown’s shoulders slump, because he knows there is no arguing with the media. He knows it is too late. He wonders for a horrible half second whether his youthful lieutenant may have some ulterior motive for stampeding him into an early election, but he knows he has spun himself into a trap.

Out of the corner of his eye he can see David Cameron accepting the acclaim of his party, and the vox pops of the swing voters announcing that they have been won over. He turns it off at last, and a silence falls in the study, broken only by the soft, rabbit-like munching of cuticles.

26 thoughts on “Thoughts on an early election”

  1. Very amusing, very amusing indeed Boris. So what’s the crack?

    Last night I sat under the big parasol/umbrella and heat lamp at my local, smoking my Cohiba Siglo No2 and drinking my cheap bottle of red house wine.

    I chatted to some pretty 19 year old girls who were drinking cheap white wine and smoking a packet of Marlboro. We talked about holidays, Tenerife, commercial aeroplanes, turbulence, the tax and benefits system (where they begrudged paying for ‘immigrants’, it is a bit ‘sweet home Alabama’ up here) and the of course the smoking ban.

    We discussed February when the heat lamp would no longer keep us cosy and something called ‘wind’ that would bring the rain underneath the big umbrella.

    Finally we discussed whether there would be a general election soon, in being their first opportunity to vote and all they were quite interested. They were as uncertain as you say Gordon is abot both whether there would be an election and who they were going to vote for.

    It has become increasingly apparent that the Labour faithful up here in the ‘deep North’ does not extend to the eighteen, nineteen and twenty year olds. In a lot if cases they have not decided whether to tick the red box, blue box, the yellow box, or indeed any box at all yet. I imagine it is the same with the rest of the country.

    I see the minimum wage has risen and the annoucement on 24 days a year paid holidays. Neither affect me I earn over and get 25 anyway.

    Labour like May elections because of April payslips for public sec tor workers. In April 2005 I was in the public sector and my annual payrise, coupled with the rise in the student loans threshold from

  2. Brown is damned – along with the country – if he calls an early election and wins.

    He will soon have to face the appalling consequences of NuLab’s reign, leaving us to watch and weep at their attempt to put matters right with another five years of demonstrably failed policies.

    Take a look at Andrew Neil’s interview with Ed Balls and see him squirm.
    This is what we can look forward to if Labour wins.

    After the superb Tory conference, where the party showed it has at last got its act together with a new approach and policies that we’ve desperately wanted for years, I believe the Conservatives really are the only ones who can save Britain from the dogs. And I was a serious doubter until this week.

  3. So what’s the plan here Boz? A bit of reverse psychology, make the Fisting Clunk think you want an election now whereas you really want one in about 10 months when his turkeys come home to roost and repossessions are the order of the day?

    Think he’ll buy it?

    Obviously the sooner we get shut of the fool the better, but cut it too fine & he may scape back in, sentencing us to another term of fiscal incontinence & eyebrow wiggling passive aggression.

  4. No body wants to go out in the cold to go and vote….May is a better time.
    Although wait you can do it online now can;t you & by post and telephone and mail?
    Yeah but May is sunny – fresh flowers hope new start etc plus the pay packet

  5. I am worcester woman and you still have my vote Boz.
    If Brown calls an election now he will have to gamble with being remembered as being PM for the shortest time won’t he?

    Sorry to learn that Henley will lose you if you are elected as Mayor for London 🙁

  6. …aaaaaand straight back to form after the last post. Perhaps the fact that I praised it got you doubting yourself.

    I can only assume, Boris, that you got a sternly-worded memo from Cameron saying words to the effect of “For god’s sake, would you take a swing at Brown? Anything!”

    Gordon Brown is many things, many of them reprehensible, but quivering and jellylikeness are not among them. I believe that on his computer there has resided a spreadsheet with dates of Tony Blair’s resignation and resultant “Gordon Brown calls snap election” dates. And I believe this spreadsheet has existed for at least the past two years.

  7. I am no Labour supporter but by no means firmly in the blue camp either. Being 23 and undecided
    I am however quite impressed with the way he has handled the first 100 days or so in power. He has seen terrorist attempts foot and mouth and blue tounge and seems to be on top of most of it. I don’t want him to call an election now but would like to see how he goes for maybe 6 months or so more then we will get a real idea what he is capable of then like many others my age im sure will decide where the cross falls.

  8. Pedro

    Terrorist attempts, foot & mouth and blue tongue are irritations – headline fodder. I am more interested to see if he can turn around ten years of decline in education, transport, health, policing, welfare dependency, social cohesion, debt, self-respect of the British people… you name it… the things that really count.

    And I guaranteee he won’t.

  9. “He has seen terrorist attempts foot and mouth and blue tounge and seems to be on top of most of it.” (Pedro)

    The people that actually deal with these things are civil servants and local government officials. They do not come and go as much as the cabinet do.

    You give the man unfair credit for the hard behind-the-scenes work done by professional, patriotic people that run the day-to-day stuff.

    If that foot and mouth outbreak had occured on a sheep farm, and during the incubation period the affected sheep had been taken to a non-dedicated market and sold, there might have been an entirely different outcome.

    Likewise if the Al-Qaeda wannabes had killed some people.

  10. Good lord Bozzer,
    Have you been knocking back the claret? A surfeit of post prandial exuberance?

    There’s as much danger of Cameron becoming the next Prime Minister as there is of him winning a Nobel prize for physics.

    Vote and be damned!

  11. You’ve certainly got a vivid imagination Boris. When you get to be Mayor, London will be a much brighter place to live!

  12. Didn’t watch the Tory conference, but from what I’ve read of it, they sounded like Tories again at last. So what happened to Global Warming? Has it gone away? I hope so. I’m utterly sick of it.

  13. Well, Gordon certainly managed to overcome his advantages & come away looking stupid. No mean feat.

  14. Yep, Gordon gambled on the Tory conference being a shambles and he lost big time.

    As Idlex said, it was good to hear Cameron talking like a Tory, and the public has responded. Hopefully he will have learned from this and there’ll be much less wishy washy centrism coming from the Opposition front bench in the future!

    (Climate change hasn’t gone away but since none of the parties are saying they’re in favour of making it worse, there’s little point banging on about it too much.)

  15. So what happened to Global Warming? (Idlex).

    There was a surprising lack of global warming humbug in the speeches I watched. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised; after Dave’s glacier-hugging phase, the Tories may at last have realised that the wheels are coming off the GW bandwagon. People are beginning to see it for what it is – the biggest scam since the South Sea Bubble, only bigger.

  16. This was a clever and finely judged piece of writing.

    Conservatives are looking much, much more promising after detailing some of their policies I think. Its all common sense stuff but this is absolutely what Britain needs after a decade of failed leftopia from the Labor party.

    I listened to the Ed Balls interview posted here and feel motivated to comment once more on education.

    Ed Balls was asked about why more people are attempting to opt out of the state system. He didn’t have an answer but his answer to improving education in the state system seemed to be to ‘personalise’ it.

    Can I just say right now ‘personalising’ education is no solution. It isn’t achievable, its a waste of resources and teacher energy and furthermore will not make a blind bit of difference to educational standards. Its a line and a smokescreen to conceal the fact that despite all the money pumped into education the Labor party hasn’t a clue how to make things better.

    The reality is that education has to be simple to carry out for teachers and it has to fit with the way people operate rather than the way you wish they would operate.

    1) You need a seriously brilliant national curriculum with detailed lesson plans that can be simply rolled out by teachers.
    2) You need to stream kids into vocational courses if they are not academic.
    3) you need to stream kids generally so that simple whole class teaching is possible.
    4) You need to expel children who cause problems in class and stop others learning. Teachers waste so much class time on behaviour management that everyone is missing out. Better to be tough on a few to make sure the majority gets the education they are entitled to. I think it would be just as easy to bring back the cane but that will never happen.
    5) Parents only feel comfortable putting their kids in schools where most of the kids are ‘like them’. Some parents are aspirational and want their children to be with others they consider are more upwardly mobile but no-one feels comfortable leaving their kids in a place where they don’t fit in.

    Most evidence about they way human beings operate shows that high levels of trust and reciprocity are linked to conformity rather than to diversity.

    Rather than pretending that this is a problem to be fixed and having parents opt out of the system as a consequence schools should focus seriously on ensuring that pupils are a good fit.

    There should be more schools available in both the public and private sector that have an interview policy to determine whether there is a good match between the school and the child.

    There is quite a lot of selection that goes on by borough with parents moving to areas that are known to have a good school system and similarly motivated students/parents which tends to be self reinforcing but this isn’t enough and is too linked to purely financial resources.
    6)I’m not sure about this but I think teaching is now largely a ‘second salary’ job done by women. If parents in different areas could compete for the best teachers by paying more for them you would see some private sector competition, improvement and attrition and that would almost certainly raise standard across the board. Schools with richer parents would be at an advantage but lets face it they always are–that’s capitalism.

  17. Is this blog becoming just a bit obsequious? It used to be much more stimulating. [Ed: in what way – please expand…]

  18. Can I just say right now ‘personalising’ education is no solution. (Charlotte) (How do you italicise type that is already italicised?!)

    Of course it isn’t. Just more tinkering with a fundamentally flawed system. You will note from the Ed Balls interview that his answer to most things is to “deliver a strategy within a framework of policies”… blah blah.

    That accursed phrase always tells me they have nothing to offer but strategies. But we want to know what they’re actually going to DO about the broken education system. Ah yes, deliver strategies…

  19. Several commentators reckon Gordon’s inheritance tax deal is another smoke-and-mirrors job; that all a couple need do is make a will and the £300,000 gets rolled up to £600,000 anyway. Does anyone have a precise appraisal?

    (also trying to see if I can fool these italics…)

  20. Great link Melissa, thankyou.

    Sir Roger (Dr.)Bannister (who in his seventies probably still runs faster than most of us can cycle) recently pointed out to me that one of the advantages of cycling is that it restricts the flow of blood to the testicles, thus reducing fertility. Given the degree of

  21. I think the Tories should start pushing on:

    1) ‘Cigar bars’ like they have in New York, why shouldn’t like minded individuals have the freedom of association to smoke tobacco and drink whisky or whatever their tipple over a nice conversation in the warmth.

    2) Those sheesha cafe’s the Arabs used to have that have been criminalised, smoking ‘sheeshas’ or ‘hookers’ in the Arab world is prevelent, why shouldn’t Brits of Arabic origin, Arab visitors and other people who want to try something different and smoke sheeshas over a cup of tea and some ethnic food not be allowed to fo so whilst enjoying shelter from the elements and hospitality?

    3) A promise to maitain our freedom to fish with rod and line in the sea without a licence. Beach/rock fishing with rod and line does not reduce stocks, nets do. We are an island nation and any man who stands on our shores should be allowed to hunt in our seas with a single rod and line with governmnt intrusion. Sea fishermen already pay 17.5 VAT on the equipement they buy.

  22. Steven_L – I like your comments on fishing v.much, although I don’t fish myself, I agree that we are an island nation and the government should do more to protect our fishing industry and rights and fish stocks. The Spanish and the French aren’t backwards in protecting their own interests.

    Too many industries have been allowed to die while this government swells the ranks of public sector workers who do not create wealth. Manufacturing, farming and fishing should have greater respect.

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