Beginning of the end?
Posted by That Other Mike on 27/11/2007
This story hit the news today. The short version is that British electoral law requires names of those donating more than £5000 to political parties to be publicly available; this is an attempt to prevent individuals from exercising undue influence in government. Donations may not be given on behalf of others. The measure arose after various scandals where individuals were given peerages for large donations, or were awarded government contracts for them; although, notably, the measure seems not to have been too effective.
As an isolated incident, the current scandal over the donations might weathered by a government with as large a majority in Parliament as Labour’s; it might result in a few months of tabloid frenzy, depending upon how well the government managed the news.
However, this is not occurring in isolation. It comes hot on the heels of the recent scandal over the loss of at least two data discs containing the personal details, right down to bank accounts, of 25 million people claiming Child Benefit. This came around the same time as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, came within a whisker of losing a no-confidence vote which would have resulted in his dissmissal.
The loss of the data discs containing the personal details of nearly half the UK population is bad enough a blow for government in and of itself, but it also has some serious knock-on effects; it is likely that the government’s plan for a national identity card, already in trouble with back-bench rebellion brewing the Labour ranks and sworn opposition from the other parties, will be dealt a killing blow by this incident.
Similarly, the cash for honours scandal, while occurring under the Blair government, is still a bad smell for Gordon Brown through his association with Blair. Again, this will have a side effect not confined to the issue itself; the incident was related to cash donors for the Government’s flagship academies programme, which was meant to revitalise the school system by bringing independence from central government and business principles to failing schools, a task which it has been singularly unsuccessful in performing. Academies have been criticised for using public money to teach religious fundamentalism, for damaging state schools locally, for the vast expense involved and for failing to serve the disadvantaged and chronically low-performing children they were intended for.
While not yet an effective movement, there is also a growing tendency amongst the English populace to criticise the government over the lack of an English Parliament; England, while the most populous and richest constituent country of the UK as a whole, lacks self-government in the form of an elected Parliament. Daily stories regarding over-spending by the Scottish Parliament, as well as benefits apparently being handed out left, right and centre to Scots while denied to the English, are fanning the flames of discontentment with the Government.
After the on-going, deeply unpopular saga of the war in Iraq (which Brown has partly ameliorated by announcing the draw-down of UK troop) levels, all of these incidents are contributing to a massive load against the newborn Brown government, which also suffered a significant groundswell of antagonism regarding the fact that he became Prime Minister without an election; there is still a faint air of illegitimacy about his leadership even now, the whole thing smacking of shady backroom deals made for political power.
The question is, will Gordon Brown survive all of this? On a strictly pragmatic level, he is able to wait until 2010 before the law requires that he call an election, and the only way he can be forced out in the meantime, realistically, is by losing a vote of confidence, and that hardly evers happens; the last time was Callaghan, in 1979, and he was in a minority government. Unless, of course, some other scandal comes up which forces him to resign, or some kind of leadership challenge occurs from within the ranks; the first is possible, but unlikely, and the second so unlikely as to be dismissed immediately.
Elections tend to run in four year cycles in the UK, and 2009 is widely seen as a likely candidate for the next general election. That’s a year and a bit away, at the least, and elections are often summer affairs; that being said, we’re looking at maybe 18 months or so before Brown has to face the public over his (and Blair’s, unfair as that may be) shortcomings. In the face of all this, it seems increasingly likely that this will be the last term in office that Labour manages to hold.