The British general election is to be held on May 6. This date has been an open secret for weeks, and now it is official. Gordon Brown would no doubt have loved to postpone it, but the parliamentary term of five years expires in June, and so his options closed. A British prime minister has the prerogative of calling a general election at the time of his choosing. Gordon Brown followed Tony Blair into the office by appointment of his party, not election. Almost certainly he would have won had he put this appointment to the test in a general election. He seemed about to take the plunge, then changed his mind and held back. This was a mistake. His three years as prime minister illustrate a general law of politics: The longer you stay in office, the more the electorate comes to distrust you.
Brown is a very odd case. He’s obviously professional, hard-working to a fault, and I used to think of him as someone of weight. But he has shown himself humanly defective, so incapable of reaching out to others that he is beyond normal communication, humorless, narrow-minded, full of petty jealousy and spite. It’s no exaggeration to say that he is resented, even loathed, with an intensity not felt for any previous holders of this office. To top things off, he’s presided over an economic wreck whose consequences will be felt for a generation.
And yet unbelievably, amazingly, inconceivably, he may still win, or stay in office if the vote is close enough to bring a hung parliament, and no one party has a majority. Special factors are at work. Disenchantment with politics has never been higher, and the electorate may well choose to stay away as though on strike. Virtually all the outgoing members of parliament have been exposed claiming expenses and benefits of a kind and on a scale shocking to ordinary people and taxpayers. Journalists already refer to it as the Rotten Parliament, and that is surely how it will enter the history books.
The election, you might therefore suppose, is there for the Conservatives to romp away with. But they have been out of power for thirteen years, and the party is in the hands of David Cameron and the young and inexperienced clique he has around him. Attempting to modernize, they have jettisoned core Conservative values to become a slightly paler version of the Labour Party. They do not dare talk of the European Union, immigration, or the state’s frightening grab of powers to control the citizens and limit their true-born liberty. On all sides I hear people saying that they long to vote Conservative — but, but, but, and still but. The United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP, has a single-plank platform of getting out of the EU. Incomprehensibly, Cameron bad-mouthed them, and maybe a fifth or a sixth of the potential Conservative vote went out of the window. The final uncertainty is the Liberal Democratic Party, aiming as usual to be all things to all men and especially all women, which this time may attract those disgusted with the bigger parties. Its slightly smarmy leaders are praying for a hung parliament, and then they will see what the two main parties will offer for their support.
A few days ago, I found myself talking to a senior Conservative Member of Parliament who told me how bitterly his constituents liked to complain about their party’s failure to resist its creeping socialism. He would finish these encounters by asking, Can you face another five years of Brown? Good heavens no! was the general response. A Conservative victory of 20 to 25 seats, he predicted. As the Duke of Wellington said about Waterloo, “It’s the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”