In a couple of short minutes Gordon Brown detonated a small bomb under the current political manoeuvring.
He strode out alone from the door of Number Ten Downing Street at 5 pm yesterday, after the markets had closed for the day, and announced that not only had his party started formal talks with the LibDems, but that he was now standing aside in the course of party leadership contest to facilitate the formation of a stable government.
He left the stage alone, no fanfares, no congratulatory slaps on the backs from his lieutenants for a job well done and not a murmur from the country.
His short statement put the whole Con / Lib talks into question. Why else would the LibDems have started formal talks with the Labour unless the Tories would not meet their demands? Why else would Brown be standing down other than to placate what most assume would be a Clegg requirement that Labour ditch Gordon before the Lib / Lab talks could get serious?
This has been seen by many as an attempt by Brown to severely wrong-foot the Tories. Brown acting as the sacrificial queen on the chess board of politics to ensure his party’s victory in the race to power whilst clearing the way for one of the pawns on his side to be promoted to the top job in the process.
But whoever succeeds Gordon as the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) now effectively has two masters, that of the PLP itself and that of the LibDems too. Despite protestations to the contrary, during the leadership battle the successor(s) will be baking speeches and statements to please both parties, almost a Lib / Lab leadership contest with the LibDems unable to vote for their choice. It would be foolish to get this far and stumble because the LibDems could not work with the PLP choice of leader.
Whilst all these machinations whirr along, the British electorate are looking on understandably stunned. Many, like me, may be feeling slightly uneasy or even angry at the process thus far. All three parties fell over themselves to turn this election into a presidential battle of the Leaders’ character and public personae. Three times we watched as the Brown, Cameron and Clegg locked horns in (stifled?) public debate and wondered which of them would be our next Prime Minister. But suddenly we are faced with the very real prospect that none of the above will actually take the coveted title. What was all that about if the goodies can be stolen away by some thief in the night at the last moment?
There will be many staunch party supporters of all three colours feeling very bitter about this whole process. The LibDems may feel that Clegg is not pushing hard enough for that Holy Grail of full election reform. Both Labour and Conservative supporters may see their parties going too far to placate the LibDems as they see the tail give the dog a good wagging. And all this while the whole UK economy teeters on the very brink of economic disaster.
Politicians keep on about the UK electorate having ‘sent them a message’ to work together. They did, the message to my mind was concentrate first and foremost on getting this economic mess sorted out.
First past the post may well have failed to give us a long term stable government this time, but if this is a taste of how our politicians operate in a coalition atmosphere in ‘the nation’s interest’ when we need immediate concentration on our economy, then I’m not sure that I for one want proportional representation. But I also wonder if some of these politicians have ever worked so hard or thought so deep about the true political problems the UK faces. As they now have to consider more than just their core supporters and maybe some good will come out of it in the end.