Friday, August 08, 2008


More Reasons Against that Early Election Argument

Further to my post of yesterday I note that Michael Brown in the Indie, commenting on the possibility of a Labour contest says:

'But whoever wins the party contest would surely have to give a public commitment to hold an early general election.

So here again, we see evidence of the belief that any product of a Labour contest to unseat Brown would be 'honour bound by democracy' to hold an election pretty damn soon. As I tried to explain yesterday, that would be a thoroughly honest and proper argument to adduce, as some have chosen to in the recent past. However, I also pointed out that that doyen of readers of British political runes, Peter Riddell, had emphasised that no Brown replacement would or should face such an obligation. Today we find that another influential columnist, Martin Kettle, argues the same, in the process mining a little more of the relevant history.

He points out that Anthony Eden(pictured) is the only modern example of a 'new leader calling an election after succeeding a PM of his own party'.

'it does not seem to have occurred to Eden that he had any kind of moral obligation - of the sort that floats in and out of many discussions on this subject today - to go to the country. Quite the reverse. "His instinct is for going on, as the bolder and more honourable course," [my italics] wrote Harold Macmillan in his diary after a private conversation with Eden on April 3 1955. "What AE would like to do wd be to go to the broadcast and the TV and announce 'No election this year'."

Apparently he thought going early would be seen as 'opportunistic' , though this was eventually what he chose to do. It's a bit hard to see that term being applied to any Labour leader when their poll ratings are at present levels. The only other time two replacements have occured during one parliamentary session was in 1940 when Churchill took over from Chamberlain: clearly not normal conditions. Kettle admits any newcomer would have to answer the expected clamour for an early election. He(or she) could do so by citing: the partisan provenance of some of these calls; the need to allow a decent time for voters to judge if the newcomer had a reasonable programme to offer; and that a stable period was needed to cope with international turbulences. Finally:

He would have to defend the current system as being the right parliamentary way of doing things. Above all, he must not lightly give up the card that gives him discretion over election timing.

However, all this conjecture is dependent on a contest taking place, and that is by no means even a short-odds bet. Indeed if Labour's Austin Mitchell is to be believed: "We're so incompetent we wouldn't know how to carry out a coup". Maybe we'd need the nasty party to demonstrate that.

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