Brown trouser time

[Thursday]

In perhaps the shoddiest post I have ever written, I deal with Gordon Brown’s attempted seduction of Paddy Ashdown, the Scottish government’s lurch to the left, and finish with a humorous “And finally” item.

Ashdown’s got talent?
At the launch of his leadership campaign, Gordon Brown spoke of a “government of all the talents” at the launch of his leadership campaign. At the time, this was though to be a reference to bringing figures from business into his cabinet.

Today it emerged that Brown had approached former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Ashdown to offer him a cabinet post as secretary for Northern Ireland. The current leader of the Liberals, Sir Menzies Campbell, had ordered his party to refrain from joining Brown’s administration and views the move as an attempt to cause divisions in his party – which is styling itself as an alternative to the Tories in much of the country.

The fear/scare-tactic of the Tories is that Labour will retain power in Westminster beyond 2009 by entering a coalition with the Liberals. Campbell strenuously denies this, citing differences with Labour on nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the war in Iraq amongst other things; it will be damaging for the Liberals that Campbell met with Brown and appears to have given some consideration before calling upon his party to turn down any offers from the new PM.

Brown’s new politics
The Labour left is not terribly happy about this latest move by the Chancellor. John McDonnell, whose long-running campaign to challenge Brown in a leadership contest was ended by Labour MPs, had this to say:

“Gordon Brown may have mentioned wanting a Government of all the talents but at no stage in his speeches to meetings of party members during the leadership process has he ever suggested a coalition with the Liberals. He should have had the decency to consult his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party on such significant matters of principle. I believe that many would have been more circumspect in giving him their support if they knew these were his plans.”

Brown faces the prospect of being forced to hold a referendum on the EU constitution (which the government would lose) and a series of public sector strikes in his first hundred days as PM: the Communication Workers Union announced today that the first national postal strike for ten years will commence next Friday after talks with Royal Mail failed to produce an agreement.

The Brownite defence of their man’s wooing of the Liberals has been that there is a desire on the part of the electorate for a “new politics” that breaks down tribal party divisions. But who are these talented people accountable to? Paddy Ashdown is an appointed Lord – he has no constituency and is not a member of the governing party. The effect of the new PM inviting people from outside the Labour Party to join cabinet will be to further alienate the dwindling electorate.

Perhaps Brown sees that his party has an uncertain future and is intent on forming the first unity government since the Second World War. Or maybe he’s just set on screwing the Liberals’ new Tory-friendly image…

Sense and consensus
In Scotland, meanwhile, the SNP-Green coalition has been founded more consensually. SNP leader Alex Salmond has made much of his accountability to the Scottish parliament, especially over the recent scandal concerning the “Lockerbie bomber”. No doubt Salmond will have something to say about Brown’s scheming – which seems to have backfired on the Chancellor – the next time there is a clash between the devolved administration and the central government.

After the announcement that schools in Scotland would in future have smaller class sizes, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has revealled that the Scottish government plans to end private sector involvement in the NHS north of the border. The creeping privatisation of healthcare is particularly unpopular – the issue of privatisation has never been a political issue in the UK and there has never been majority public opinion in favour.

In marked contrast Gordon Brown signalled at last night’s Mansion House speech to the City of London that he would like to see business involvement in all schools. This paves the way for more creeping privatisation, with City Academies the key to future capitalist ownership of public schooling.

No bombs, please: we’re Scottish
Last week, the Scottish parliament voted, by 71 votes to 16, against Westminster’s plans to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system. No Labour MSPs supported their party’s position on the issue, with most abstaining and five voting for the motion, which had been put forward by the Scottish Greens. This is the first time that a nuclear weapons system has been rejected by elected representatives in a UK parliament, and was the result of a successful campaign by Scottish CND that united trade unions, political parties, and religious organisations.

Andy Newman wrote the following about the SNP in a post entitled “Will Trident destroy the UK?” a few days ago:

Scottish Left Review, a very impressive and non-politically aligned publication, argues that Scottish politics can best be understood in terms of a core SNP electoral bloc, a core Labour electoral bloc, and a less clearly defined progressive vote that is tactically inclined to what ever is the best left of Labour option at the time. In 1999 that vote went largely to the SNP, in 2003 it was split between the SNP, Greens and SSP, and in 2007 returned to the SNP.

“So is the SNP a left party? Well clearly it is a pro-capitalist party, but so is Labour. On most policy issues the SNP stands to the left of Labour, and in particular Trident and opposition to the Iraq war have been central SNP policies.

“One of the most successful and enduring myths promoted by labour is that the SNP are Tartan Tories. But Gordon Morgan, again in Scottish Left Review, points to the second preference transfer votes in the Glasgow local elections last month. Among SNP voters just 4.7% of then placed a second preference for the Tories, and just 0.3% for the BNP. In contrast, 13.1% of SNP voters in Glasgow placed a second preference for Solidarity, 7.5% for the SSP, and 14.3% for the Greens. 35% of SNP voters put a second preference for a left of Labour party.

“If we compare this to the transfers from Labour voters, 4.5% expressed a second preference for Solidarity, 2.6% for the SSP and 9.8 % for the Greens.

“On this evidence the SNP’s electoral base is as least as broadly progressive as Labour’s – but the party itself is to the left of Labour.”

That’s a cracker!
And finally, a joke:

It is rumoured that Tony Blair will take on a peace-making role in the Middle East when he leaves 10 Downing Street, representing the Quartet of America, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.

No, wait a minute – that wasn’t a joke. Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to be funny.

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