Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fade To Brown

I wanted to wait to comment on the accession of Gordon Brown to 10 Downing Street until his cabinet was chosen, he had spoken in Parliament giving the "wish list" speech and also to see where this terrorist situation was headed.

First off, as one might believe, the "Brown bounce" was given, well, more bounce by the reaction of Brown (and especially his new Home Secretaty Jacqui Smith) in the face of more terror attacks in Britain. I don't think, however, that this is the whole story. Some of this bounce is doubtlessly due to people being utterly sick of the sight of Tony Blair and, if momentarily, happy just to see someone else smiling from the steps of No. 10. This usually does not last long...think of John Major.

In outlining his program to the Commons in his first speech in the House since becoming PM, Brown has outlined a slate of programs to make the British government "a better servant of the people." In that cause, he has offered to give up some the powers given to the PM by royal prerogative (such as the final decision to go to war). Brown would cede these powers to the Commons.

He would, in a more general sense, seek to increase the powers of MP's and decrease that of the PM, who in any parliamentary system should be more of a "first among equals" than a president is. Is this in response to accusations that Blair ran a presidential style government and ignored his cabinet colleagues? Perhaps, but in the wake of many decisions taken by Blair, presidential in nature or not, it seems that this might be a popular move.

In looking at his cabinet, it bears mentioning that it seems that Brown brought an awful lot of people across the street (literally) from the treasury to serve both in the Cabinet and as advisors (who often pull more influence than the Cabinet over a PM's thinking). As for the cabinet more generally, it can be seen that some old faces remain, but a lot more are gone or moved on.

What can be said of these new people and policy changes? Well, at the outset it seems to me to be a change in style but with similar substance. You know the old routine: people like what's being done (generally) but don't like who's doing it. Simple...change the faces, shift the ol' paradigm and poof! It seems there was a change without there being much of a change.

Oh, the personalities are different. Take the Home Secretary. It seems that Jacqui Smith, much in contrast to the combattive John Reid, has a cool head and a steady hand (we'll see how much of that survives the daily dose of terrifying security briefings that the Home Secretary gets). For more on this difference, read this commentary in the Telegraph.

What of the other parties? Well, in typical fashion, both David Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell pulled off the shadow cabinet/front bench axe job to try and "rebalance" the issues and personalities that will be confronting Brown's new cabinet. While in the case of Campbell and the Lib-Dems it seemed pretty routine (bring some of the new people up and give them a go at Brown's new people), for Cameron and the Conservatives, it seemed to be a bit of a different move.

In a word, Cameron seemed more desparate. In his choices and what he is hoping to convey, it seems that this reshuffle is a bit more of a panic move than that of Campbell. It also shows a trend that seems to have been going on for at least the last few years. It seems that the Tories under Cameron want to remake their image in the same way that Blair remade the image of Labour beginning in 1994. What might this do, you ask? It might totally redefine what the Conservatives are all about. Is this good or bad? The answer is yes and no.

Cameron needs to realize that Brown is going to have his "honeymoon," perhaps lengthened by the terror attacks (as macabre as that seems), but then the holes will start to show. If Cameron is as adept a politician as I think he believes he is, he will take advantage and hopefully, come the next general election (which I predict will be sometime in early to mid 2009) he will have presented himself as the main opposition voice in Parliament.

What he could also end up doing, of course, is alienating the base, that core of Conservative voters that are like the religious Right in the United States for the Republicans. Like it or not, you have to keep them happy. Some say that Cameron is already doing this; for the broader swath of the party, I am sure they hope he stops.

In closing, Brown is still in the first weeks of his new government and the challenges to come are, well, still to come. I believe that along with the reforms that he is proposing, he will have to deal with the Euro question again, Northern Ireland (almost goes without saying) and the tricky constitutional issue wherein the House of Lords might become part elected and what that will mean for the constitutional framework of the nation and also the idea that he may call for a written constitution for the UK (something they have never really had).

For now, all we can do is watch him grimace and furrow his brow a lot...politicians, no matter what the party, love to do that. Makes you look like you are thinking about something.

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