Tag Archive for 'Gordon Brown'

15:17 I predict a Conservative-LibDem coalition

The Labour and Liberal Democrat negotiating teams finished a session around 13:30.  The Conservative negotiation team then sat down with the Lib Dems at 14:00.  Ever since then, there has been a steady stream of increasingly-senior Labour figures arguing against a Lab-Lib coalition, which suggests to me that they’re softening up the ground for a Tory-led government.

From the BBC Live stream:

14:26 Labour MP and former minister Michael Meacher says his party should go into opposition and “renew itself”.

14:30 The first Labour minister has openly expressed the feeling that a Lab-Lib coalition is not viable.

14:36 “We must NOT enter a deal with Labour,” writes Keith Nevols, former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, on his blog.

14:43 The London Evening Standard’s Paul Waugh claims that in last night’s cabinet meeting Health Secretary Andy Burnham “broke ranks to give an ominous warning of the dangers of trying to concoct such an unstable alliance” between Labour and the Lib Dems.

15:12 Labour MP for Batley and Spen Mike Wood says “David Cameron should be PM”.

My prediction:

A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, with major points along the lines of:

  • Strong support for Tory spending (cut) plans;
  • Freedom for the Lib Dems to oppose the Tory line on Europe and Trident, at the least;
  • Some mechanism to equalise the size of constituencies (which would help the Tories);
  • A referendum on Alternative Vote — a.k.a. Preferential Voting — for the House of Commons (which would help the Lib Dems);
  • No agreement on reform of the House of Lords;
  • The Lib Dems getting one mid-to-high level cabinet position (something like Home Secretary); and
  • An intention to keep the new parliament for at least two years.

The Lib Dems will desperately want two things:

  1. to have electoral reform enacted (presuming that they succeed in the referendum) before the next election; and
  2. to have an opportunity to be seen to be actively influencing policy in their favour.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats have their Southport resolution.  Any coalition must obtain 75% support amoung Lib Dem MPs, members of the House of Lords and executives of the party.  Nevertheless, I think that they’ll pull it through.  If nothing else, the prospect of the first Lib Dem cabinet position in a century will awaken the real politik in their MPs.

Previously on the UK electoral system:

Obama’s (i.e. The Volcker) bank plan

Those of us who aren’t American but still follow U.S. politics were quietly giggling (okay, openly guffawing) into our latte’s last week when Scott Brown won the special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy.  The Daily Show’s take on the whole affair (I think it was broadcast the night before the election day) was spot on and I urge anyone with the capability to hunt down that episode.  In short, the Democrat’s handling of the event is a classic example of why the word clusterfuck was invented. What in blazes they now intend to do in passing any reasonable kind of reform in health-care (and the ideas on the table weren’t really all that reasonable to start with) is beyond me.

Anyway.  I tip my hat to the newest federal Senator in the United States for an expertly handled campaign.

I was then surprised to (finally) see some equally smart politics from the White House in the form of Obama publically supporting the banking regulation ideas of former Fed chair and octogenarian, Paul Volcker.

The White House had already been making noises about imposing a fee on financial institutions to recoup any losses in TARP.  TARP, if you remember, is the US$700 billion officially set aside under president Bush Jr. to help the finance industry weather the storm.  Of course, a large fraction of TARP was diverted to help the car (that’s “auto” for any Americans in the audience) industry and not all assistance to the financial industry was included in TARP.  Still, it’s the closest thing to an easy target with a pronounceable name.  If you care, you can read my incredibly brief thoughts on the levy here and, more importantly, here.

But the Volcker plan is an entirely different kettle of fish and can be boiled down to a simple and beautiful phrase:  “Too big to fail is just too big.”

It calls for constraints on the scope and the size of US banks.  It seeks to ban proprietary trading at institutions that hold retail deposits.  It’s an armchair commentator’s wet dream come true!  It’s also, unfortunately, staggeringly unlikely to ever become reality.  There are two reasons for this.

First, as expertly described by the Economics of Contempt, the White House has no intention of pushing this through anyway.  Instead, it was …

… a fairly transparent political stunt — the White House needed to do something to take the media’s focus off of health care 24/7, so they flew in Volcker and announced some proposals that sound good to the media. The two Senate staffers I talk to regularly both said their offices were basically ignoring Obama’s proposals, because even if the White House fights for them (which they won’t), Chris Dodd has no intention of inserting them into his committee’s bill. I like how some people think Obama’s proposals represent a fundamental turning point on financial reform, because….well, clearly this is their first rodeo. (Hence the uber-quixotic language they use to describe financial reform.)

[Update: Just to clarify, when I said Obama’s announcement was a “fairly transparent political stunt,” I wasn’t criticizing the Obama administration. We live in a political world, and political stunts are often useful. If I were Rahm Emanuel, I’d be a dick have done the same thing. I think it was probably a savvy move, and if health care reform ends up passing, then it was worth it.]

Second, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the second move in the space of a week to leave the America-watchers of the world chuckling, decided to reverse decades of precedent and assert that when it came to political speech, corporations, unions and other groups of individuals have more power than individuals.  Not only can corporations, unions and the like directly fund political campaigns, but unlike individuals, they are subject to no limit on their donations.  It’s great.  You’re going to end up seeing major political events sponsored by Pepsi.  You’re going to have unlimited funding available to opponents of any politician that does anything that runs contrary to a company that employs people in his or her district or state.  In short, you will never, ever again see anything serious passed in an election year in the United States unless it has not just bipartisan, but unanimous support.

So, no, as much as I like what Obama said, I don’t think it’ll ever become law.  It certainly won’t in 2010.

What were Hoon and Hewitt thinking?

I don’t understand the (failed) attempt by Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon to inspire a leadership challenge in the Labour Party here in the UK.  Any serious contender for the job (i.e. Milliband) would surely recognise that the chance of a Labour victory in this year’s general election is miniscule, no matter who leads the party, and to lose an election three or four months into your leadership would hardly make for a sterling start.

If one takes a Tory victory as given, it would be far better to let Brown take the full hit for the loss.  Keep him on as a figurehead to take all the bile, spit, rage and blame for the state of the country as a whole and the state of the government’s finances and the electoral loss in particular.  Let the voting public gorge themselves in a cathartic spasm of kicking the Blair/Brown pairing and then shuffle Brown off, declare that there will be no return to Old Labour and start observing loudly at every opportunity that now it’s the Tories that are all about spin.

Brown’s job at this point is not so much to put out the fire — that can no longer be done — but to save the furniture.  So why did Hewitt and Hoon do this?  It was never going to work and it only serves to further lessen the probability of Labour retaining some of their seats.

The obvious answer is that they don’t consider a Tory victory to be a foregone conclusion and somehow think that simply getting rid of Brown will help the broader party separate itself from the Blair/Brown brand.  The first part of that sentence may indeed be true (afterall, the Tories need an average swing of 7% to win), but the second is utterly false.  Labour will not escape the Blair/Brown brand until they’ve spent some time in opposition for the simple reason that the public needs to kill it before they will forget about it.

Howard and Costello

With the news that Peter Costello will not be seeking reelection, Peter Martin gives us two stories of Costello’s way of dealing with people.  The first, with Saul Eslake, the chief economist of ANZ, is interesting enough, I guess.  The second one really caught my eye:

Richard Denniss is these days the chief of staff for the Greens’ leader Bob Brown. In 2002 he was the chief of staff to the then Democrats’ leader Natasha Stott Despoja. In Mr Costello’s budget speech that year he had announced that pensioners and other concession card holders would have to pay more for their medicines. Their co-payment would climb from $3.60 to $4.60 per prescription.

The Democrats said they would oppose the measure in the Senate. Some weeks later Senator Stott Despoja and Dr Denniss were summoned to the Peter Costello’s office.

Denniss says Costello took them through page after page of laminated graphs, talking at them for the best part of an hour. The Treasurer seemed surprised to discover that they hadn’t been won over.

“At one point Costello said: Natasha, you don’t appear to understand the numbers. To which she replied: I do understand the numbers Peter, you don’t have them in the Senate and you won’t be passing this bill”.

A few days later the two were summoned to the Prime Minister’s office. Denniss says he had expected Mr Howard to be even worse.

Instead they found Howard “effusive in apologising for being late, come in sit down, can I get you a cup of tea – lots of chit chat, lots of actual conversation”.

The Prime Minister said “I know you spoke to the Treasurer last week and I’m sure he showed you all his graphs” and I understand your position: “we are trying to drive up the price of medicine for sick people, of course the Democrats are going to oppose it”.

And then he said: “How about ten cents? That wouldn’t hurt anyone.” “It absolutely floored us.”

Howard said: “Natasha, you’re the leader, I’m the leader, can’t we just settle this right now?”

Denniss says he found the Prime Minister almost impossible to resist. “His genius was to make us feel powerful.”

Costello by contrast “wanted to wield the power that had been bestowed upon him.”

I find this entirely compelling.  Costello always struck me as a technocrat.  I may not have liked Howard much (and not at all for the latter half of his time as PM), but he knew better than most what any specific audience wanted to hear.

The MP expenses scandal in Britain

It’s both spectacular and petty.  The fraction of MPs that truly scammed the system is tiny and the scale of the claims for the most part only seems offensive in a recession.  It was started by Cameron as a political stunt, but when Torys were implicated he had to take it nuclear or look terrible.  The Speaker was culpable, yes, but he was thrown under the bus by Brown all the same.  That The Telegraph got the complete list in a leak is more of a story, to my mind.

What style of Speaker will emerge is an interesting question.  If it’s another Labour party member, it will be easy to imagine the role moving somewhat  in the direction of the Speakers of the lower houses in Australia (where the role is quite partisan) and the USA (where it is extremely partisan).  In a parliamentary democracy (Australia, UK) , that will serve to grant the executive more power over the legislature, which is a Bad Thing ™ in my books, as it reduces the ability of the opposition to contribute to the legislative process in any meaningful way.

I’ve occasionally thought that in the event of Australia becoming a republic, the president’s primary constitutional role might simply be to ensure the fair operation of the judicio-political system.  So, for example, the president – or their appointee – might be the official Speaker of the House but would not have a vote (even in the event of a tie) and could not introduce legislation.

Of course, having the monarch appoint an independent Speaker of the Commons in the UK would get MPs’ knickers in a collective knot over the sovereignty of parliament.  Another reason to be a republic.