Brown Going Down
Yes, I’m a bona fide political dork: I’m at home on a Saturday night, enjoying the Correspondents Dinner on c-span. That’s right. If you must, judge me. If you’re reading this site, though, I can’t imagine you can judge me too harshly.
Having some British lineage, I track UK elections with some fascination. Given our interminable 2008 presidential election cycle, I have enviously watched the weeks involved in this round of parliamentary elections. The very moment TV debates between the three leading contenders for PM were announced, however, I knew this was going to be an even more intriguing run to the polls for the Brits. A first for the country, what would happen when their election was made all that much more “presidential” with the interruption of TV presence? Well, a lot, but, in the end I feel, very little.
Three months ago, Cameron, the Tories fresh-faced leader was the PM-in-waiting. Gordon Brown, Labour’s hapless standard-bearer since Tony Blair bequeathed the office to him with multiple wars raging on and an economy on the precipice of disaster, simply couldn’t get out of his way. More to the point, every single British voter I knew and asked, simply said they were tired of him and the whole Labour operation. It didn’t help that Brown’s Labour party was mired in internal strife, largely around members threatening to depose Brown and soon finding themselves on the wrong side of Downing Street, and multiple MP’s, both inside and outside Labour, were enmeshed in a seedy expenses scandal. (One would think “moat cleaning” a personal expense, but that’s just me.)
Then the inevitable pendulum swing. Cameron was suddenly viewed as an alien, somewhat uppity commodity. Friends across the pond started dropping the dreaded “posh” adjective; in American parlance a “double Izod collars-up, preppie, snob.” It appeared Brown’s dogged persistence, and the recognition that maybe he does deserve some credit for constructing a plan that managed to avoid America’s populist bailout blow-back and Greece’s inexorable slide into junk bond status, was finally bringing him some electoral momentum. A hung parliament, wherein no party has a majority and, therefore, has to form some sort of unity government with one of several smaller, regional parties or the heretofore not significant third-place player the Liberal-Democrats, was not only possible, but likely. And, with it, Gordon Brown would somehow cling to his office.
Cue the debates.
Nick Clegg, the young, new face (at least to most UK voters) at the helm of the Lib-Dem’s, played 1960’s Kennedy to Brown’s Nixon. You could feel the flop-sweat from the other side of the pond and oozing through YouTube. Brown righted the ship somewhat in the second and third debate. Finally, in the last, he took on Cameron, who basically managed to play the part of Neo in the prior sessions dodging the bullets that zinged around the room. What killed Brown, however, occurred outside the debate halls. Earlier in the week he disastrously left a hot mic on after meeting with a constituent complaining about the impact of immigration on the country. Here was an entirely innocent figure, an elderly, nice grandmotherly type getting picked upon by her PM, calling her “bigoted.” In the hothouse of tabloid-happy Britain with days to go to the election, the papers might as well have run an epitaph for poor Gordon. I have to say I’m a natural fan of the underdog, especially one who has been through as much as Brown. But, as a political realist, I have to admit he’s done.
So, now all analysis indicates the election Thursday will essentially end as it was predicted months ago: Cameron will be the new PM, likely with the help of a complicit, and rising, Lib-Dem party and Labour in the wilderness. One thing will be forever changed in UK politics: TV debates aren’t going away for better or, I fear, worse.