Saturday, 6 June 2009

Shuffling Up Together in the Bunker

I have a soft spot for Caroline Flint, ever since this nasty piece of work said unemployed people who have council housing (and presumably housing association accommodation as well) should be forced to sign contracts saying they are looking for work, just so that they don't keep drawing too many housing benefits. I'm pleased the dole minister Tony McNulty is another one to go.

So James Purnell dropped his bombshell at polls closed on the night of the crap results with full newspaper publicity for Friday morning. Once David Miliband met Diane Abbott's viewpoint that he lacks even a minimal level of courage, and instead shored up Brown's government, and thus both Miliband and Darling stayed in their posts, the reshuffle got under way on Friday before the D Day commemorations not after them. Thursday night Caroline Flint also gave a shoring up speech for Brown's benefit, but when there was no reward for her she decided to resign today with a letter saying Brown uses women for window dressing in the cabinet and accused his forces of briefing against her.

Well it looks bad when you attack someone after not getting a job to run a department. Claire Short once showed another indecision looking both ways and that did her no favours. Meanwhile Brown is weak at the knees, as only four people in the cabinet are the fresh faces intended once to give the government that new look after all this political scandal. Back in the 1990s, John Major brought in Michael Heseltine to prop him up, which he did with Douglas Hurd. This time, keeping Miliband in the Foreign Secretary slot wanted by Peter Mandelson has meant adding titles to Peter Mandelson, including the new one of First Secretary. Ed Balls was for Chancellor and hasn'tgot it and so lost out. Apparently (call him) "Sir Alan" Sugar is now advising somewhere, but not to tell Gordon Brown that he's fired.

As for the legacy of Caroline Flint, it's a laugh a minute that Glenys Kinnock joins the government, like a Hillary Clinton British style that includes Glenys joining her husband in the House of Lords, the institution that constitutional change proposed by this government might make democratic and yet would prevent such convenience of parachuting in ministers. She won't be in the Cabinet though - Caroline Flint only attended cabinet occasionally and then was ignored.

Lord Peter Mandelson physically hung around in Downing Street around lunchtime making sure he appeared uninvited to news broadcasts to try and shore up Brown in terms of what broadcasters were saying. He just walked into Bilko's news report at the 1 pm BBC News rather as Alistair Campbell did regarding the BBC and the Hutton affair. The purpose of Mandelson was to tell the media of a new policy basis to the cabinet (this before Flint and her stunt). Peter Hain appeared on Newsnight, a sort of back as Welsh Secretary again joke, a lot to do there given the devolved administration, clearly a man to appear on the media many times. For a while as the results came out TV could find no one in Labour to talk about them - with Conservatives on an actual disappointing 38%, Liberal Democrats on 28% and Labour on 23% (with worse to come in the crowded European Vote scene) and in this election Labour lost all its councils.

Brown appeared in a press conference where, as far as I could see, watching it, the more he spoke the more ridiculous it appeared. I would give him this: if his constitutional thrust to his policy emphasis of the 'new regime' did offer genuine proportional representation, the Liberal Democrats might well pick it up. It could be the way Labour avoids a wipeout: PR is kinder to minority parties. However, Brown was vague and there would be consultation, when he seems not to realise he has at best a year left. I'd draw up plans for PR now, if I was Brown, and force them through (past his Labour opposition - but then even they surely want to have some seats left too, and not to support would bring him down) and then he could argue that other constitutional changes would follow such a dramatic change in method. A new government (multi-party) would then have more authority to tackle the House of Lords. After all, Alan Johnson, who had a secret structure of people in place for a leadership election, spoke in favour of PR, but has now been promoted to Home Secretary to keep him inside the shored up government.

At the moment it is because the cabinet was going to decide whether Brown should go, and it decided he should stay (despite escapee Purnell's letter, and because the largely Blairite opposition lacks co-ordination), that Brown is a little stronger. Miliband's decision to stay leaves the Blairites without their favoured leadeship candidate, and Alan Johnson also knows that the assassin does not get the prize.

All this is supposed to produce good legislation? Inside a year? They ought to focus on their exit strategy, and bring in proportional representation, but Brown is full of hubris about his own necessity to govern.

So what might actually remove Gordon Brown? Well why not the Daily Telegraph, which has done so much by daily deliveryto turn the MPs into depressed fungus on the benches? It has a report for today Saturday that before he became Prime Minister Gordon Brown billed the taxpayer for two second homes. He claimed parliamentary expenses for his constituency home in Scotland while he was charging the taxpayer for a flat in London. He flipped his second home for claims purposes. He also claimed second home allowance after moving into Downing Street. The colourful bit here seems to include hiring a Scottish bagpipes player for veterans on his office expenses (£30) and there are these 77 days of an electricity bill claimed for in cold Scotland when his second home was a flat in London.

That was nicely held back by the newspaper for an attempted killer blow, but much has already been checked and repaid by Brown. The Daily Telegraph here seems to be doing something of a New Labour trick of warming up some old news and adding some held-back titbits as Brown had seen past errors and made (apparently miscalculated and inadequate) repayments, and it follows the usual Nuremberg defence. Trouble is, Brown had also criticised others for their errors, including Alistair Darling, who he had wanted to move, but now cannot, and forgot to criticise himself, as he wants to stay. Why do people cling to power?

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