Despite an embarrassing drubbing of his Labour Party at the polls and the resignation of several key ministers, the UK’s Gordon Brown vows “I will not waver, I will not walk away, I will finish the work.” Most observers, however, think he’s operating on borrowed time.
Guardian‘s Tom Clark pronounces the voting results “dreadful” and reports “The BBC is projecting a 23% nationwide vote share – third place by a distance, a full five points behind the Liberal Democrats, and the worst since BBC records began.” Indeed, as Nico Hines and Jill Sherman report for The Times, “Labour no longer controls a single county council in England.” Martin Wainwright has the blow-by-blow.
To be clear, these results were not for the House of Commons but rather the European Parliament and some localities. But it’s a stark vote of no confidence for the party that has governed since Tony Blair’s smashing 1997 victory.
In addition to a bruising scandal over inflated expense reports and general complaints about his demeanor, there is of course the faltering economy.
Brown had accepted the resignation of six members of his cabinet, including defense secretary John Hutton just this morning, and heard calls from a good number of Labour MPs — most prominently departing Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell — for him to stand aside before making his speech today announcing a reshuffling of his team and declaring, “If I didn’t think I was the right person leading the right team, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Adding insult to injury, a seventh, Europe Minister Caroline Flint resigned during Brown’s speech while accusing him of sexism, complaining, “Several of the women attending Cabinet – myself included – have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing.” She added, “It has been apparent for some time that you do not see me playing a more influential role in the Government. Therefore, I have respectfully declined your offer to continue in the Government as Minister for Europe attending Cabinet.” She had, it seems, been expecting a promotion to the full cabinet which was not forthcoming.
FT’s Robert Shrimsley echoes the view of many in saying, “Gordon Brown may be days from departure. Or – like the twitching body at the end of a hangman’s noose – he may sputter on for another year.”
Scotsman Steve Hynd warns, “although the Tories are picking up seats at every turn, they shouldn’t be lighting candles on a celebration cake. A goodly bit of humility would be warranted. They’ve been badly damaged by the MP’s expenses scandal too, if not as badly as Brown and Labour.” BBC’s Nick Robinson agrees, noting “While they’re likely to end the day having won overwhelmingly and having taken a handful of councils, their projected share of the national vote is not as good as it might have been” and adding “there are swings in politics and that, having had a bloody few days, Gordon Brown has an opportunity to reassert himself.”
But, most likely, he won’t. The bottom line is that Brown isn’t doing a good job of governing. He’s been holding on for dear life for a considerable period, hoping to ride out the rough patch, and things are only getting worse. And, as The Spectator‘s Alex Massie points out, this is not mere politics:
John Hutton’s successor as Secretary of State for Defence [Bob Ainsworth, it turns out -JJ] will be the fifth person to hold that job in the last five years. No wonder there’s a total lack of continuity at the MoD. This is, to put it mildly, no way to treat what should be one of the most important jobs in government. And this at a time when, however fitfully, we’ve been fighting two wars.
The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan declares, ” This is how governments die in Britain – a country where elections are not held to a fixed calendar.” Despite his warnings against Tory hubris, Hynd declares “it’s been clear for some time now that David Cameron would be the next PM whenever the general election was finally called. Today’s disaster for Labour will hurry that day along.”
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.