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The election that never was

Brian Taylor | 14:04 UK time, Sunday, 7 October 2007

Picture, if you will, a future Holyrood election. You know, one of those that comes along, by statute, every four years.

The hotline rings in Alexander Towers. “Team Brown here. Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll take charge of the Labour campaign as we always have.”

What do you imagine the response might be? Admittedly, the memory of this weekend’s Oktoberfest of Fun will have faded somewhat. Months, years, events.

But will Team Brown’s reputation for sharp, polished political strategy ever be quite the same again?
Scottish Labour is trying its best today.

Apparently, the only one truly scared of an election is Alex Salmond.

Well, it’s a gallant effort. Not quite up there with the suggestion that David Cameron’s Blackpool speech was a subliminal appeal to the SNP. But not bad.

So what’s left from this non-election weekend? Will we, in years to come, recall fondly where we were when we heard that the election was off?

(Personally, I was at Tannadice to witness the annihilation of Motherwell by one superb goal to nil.)

I suspect not. I suspect too that the sound and fury, the lampooning and lambasting, is amplified by the political bubble, whether at Westminster, Holyrood or on the party conference circuit.

The voters, I guess, know this is a pretty spectacular guddle. But, equally, I suspect they will be more concerned in the long-term about what their leaders do – rather than, in this case, don’t do.

At the UK political level, they will be interested in taxation and spending. The chancellor is due to give us much more info about all that on Tuesday with his spending review and pre-Budget report – while voters are still digesting that intriguing Tory offer on inheritance tax etc.

They will want to know more about the progress of Britain’s military adventures. The Prime Minister is promising a detailed statement on Iraq in the Commons tomorrow, having trailed the issue of troop redeployment while in Basra.

In Scotland, the voters will want to examine the options on crime, health and education. More to come on that from the still relatively new ministerial team and their opponents.

Still and all, as I heard one politician say, this is scarcely a “glad, confident morning” for the PM.

If I remember aright from my days studying literature in the Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews, that is a quotation from Robert Browning’s poem about Wordsworth, accusing him of selling out to the establishment. It is called The Lost Leader.


  • 1.
  • At 03:55 PM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • mairi macleod wrote:

hi brian,
a bit more than a guddle, its just one thing after another for labour, they started all this themselves,
thinking to outwit the torries,in
thier own favour, its backfired,now
look who's wiping EGG,serves them right, i would doubt very much if they have a decent brain cell put
whats ALEX SALMOND got to do with this? why is he implicated? is this
an attempt to pass the buck? we are
always ready to hear REAL complaints
not PURE BILE and childish attempt's
to muddy watters in a futile face saving prank.

Excellent work, the last ew days, Brian. Thanks for it all, and keep it coming.

I have to admit a wee bit of disappointment in not being able to confirm my suspicion that, had Broonie Bear called a "snap" election, there might have been considerable erosion of the formerly safe assumptions about Scottish Westminster seats (even in Kirkcaldy?).

I can live with that minor niggle, but an even larger one is my curiosity concerning the lost possibility of a surprise Tory victory and how such a result might have affected the devolution 'process'.

We remain in interesting times, but they might have become even more interesting....


  • 3.
  • At 10:37 PM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • Marianne wrote:

Come on Brian, 'a guddle'? No. I guess the voters will think it was a cynical ploy which spectacularly backfired and has left Gordon Brown looking like a pretty shabby opportunist. We are hearing now it was all the fault of the testosterone kids in his cabinet. It will be just like Brown to let them take the blame while he slithers away to get on with 'running the country' and 'presenting his vision'. He's always been manipulative and sleakit, but this time the fly man has been nicely caught.
And re Mairi #1 I can't see what
Alex Salmond has to do with this either. I heard you this morning on Radio Scotland wondering rather mischievously if, now that the Election was off, Alex Salmond would still give up his Westminster seat.
I couldn't see why that was an issue you thought necessary to bring up. I should add that AS himself reiterated on the programme that he would resign it at the next General Election as he has always promised.

  • 4.
  • At 08:52 AM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Alan Meade wrote:

General Election or no election,what really matters in Scotland is what exactly we're going to the polling stations about.
Nobody seems to have informed the public what exactly they're voting for when they choose an MP,MSP,MEP.
The powers and duties that these members are employed for should be made much clearer to the public.

  • 5.
  • At 09:18 AM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Duncan McDougall wrote:

This is UK Labour's mess! Did the Scottish Regional Labour party have input into this decision? No!
That Brown and his advisors are now trying to lie their way out of this mess, is reverting to kind. Expect lots of dirty tactics from UK based Labour in the comming weeks to try and tar everyone else.
Outcome is - "Would you trust Brown?"

  • 6.
  • At 09:55 AM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Chasa wrote:

Douglas Alexander is making a reputation for himself as a serious bungler. First the Scottish Elections and now his masters general election. Whats next? Perhaps the back benches!

  • 7.
  • At 10:55 AM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Jeff wrote:

Des Browne's attempt to implicate Alex Salmond by saying Salmond is scared is just Scottish (sic) Labour's pathetic attempt to climb out of the doo-doo they jumped into. Maybe they should take Denis Healey's advice and stop digging as this tactic will surely backfire on them. But they won't as they still can't get their heads round getting their jotters in May. Mind you, I'm not complaining with Brown, Browne and Alexander running things, the future looks bright for the SNP.

  • 8.
  • At 12:09 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Ted Harvey wrote:

Well there is one common thread running through this on-off UK General Election farce and the Scottish Elections earlier this year - Douglas Alexander.

He somehow vanished off back down to Westminster to escape any significant blame or opprobrium for his culpable role in the lamentable chaos that passed for the Scottish Election. He was the leader-aff in the let's ignore any Scottish professional opinion and have a two-elections-in-one-day and a new system. Ironic that the consequent national electoral confusion may have hit the traditional core Labour vote hardest.

For Gordon Brown the on-off election is surely a big negative hit on his supposed reputation for judgement and competence. This was the first real decision that he had to make alone as PM - and he fluffed it.

The guy does seem to have a long-term problem with facing up to openess and debate and elections as part of the democratic process (see Ald Young's excellent resume of this Brownite fault in last Friday's Herald).

Off course the tradition of 'coronation-and-not-an-election-please' is a Labour tradition most recently observed by Wendy Alexander
(and didn't she do well at the Labour Party conference with 'I apologise on behalf of the Scottish Labour Party' and her cringing appeal to the English party for 'you' to help 'us' in Scotland' defeat Alex Salmond)

Ted Harvey

  • 9.
  • At 12:15 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • James Aitken wrote:

Labour were very poor in May. They ran a very negative campaign. In some areas of Scotland they do not exist.

I also think Jack McConnell is entitled to have a smile on his face as well given the nonsense that came from GB and friends during the Scottish campaign.

  • 10.
  • At 12:22 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • alistair wrote:

spelling and grammar! What's the education system coming to? I blame 18 years of Tory rule myself....

  • 11.
  • At 01:25 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • sacrebleu wrote:

The breathtaking arrogance of it!
Spinning along, getting everyone to believe that an election was imminent, having to call a halt when the polls turned bad and then trying to pretend that there was no election planned in the first place.

Does he think we're daft?

Gordie has demonstrated that he has learned a lot from Tony!

If he was serious about bringing about change, then he'd move to fixed parliamentary terms.

  • 12.
  • At 01:47 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Stewart wrote:

Motherwell? Annihilation? Were you at the game Brian?

  • 13.
  • At 03:36 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Matt McLaughlin wrote:

Tactically Gordon Brown was right to consider a snap election - any Prime Minister under the Westminster system can do so, at any time they like.

He was also right to determine that 0n balance it was not a good idea, not because he has anything to fear, but rather that tactically he can use the next few months to further improve his position, therefore making a good working majority more likley.

The whole issue was fuelled by the media and people at Westminster -on all sides, who should have more sense.

As for the general public - most would have been happy enough to have a short campaign, thus sparing them the torture of endless media centric rambling on the issue. Of course the sad truth is that most voters and even more non voters couldn't care less.

That should be the real issue that is taxing our civic society!

  • 14.
  • At 03:43 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Brian, being unfamiliar as I was with this work of Robert Browning, The Lost Leader, I have to admit a degree of research; I started to read this and one name immediately sprung to mind, no not Gordon Brown but one Malcolm Rifkind.

  • 15.
  • At 03:45 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

So Gordon Brown chose not to go to the country, I had my doubts and thought it just possible; however if he does ‘have a dream’ he would be correct to express the opinion that he wanted a chance to show the country his "vision for change" and to develop his policies further as loss of power would bring to an end changes which populate his vision.

Gordon Brown has made the decision not to call a General Election based on his own and his party’s mutual self interest, I find nothing new in such actions from a politicians, this is par for the course for all politicians and political parties; I will however find it unbelievable that David Cameron and his Conservatives will claim to be acting in defence of the greater good, all politicians are self interested egotists, David Cameron I feel more so fits this category than many others I can call to mind.

The playground language that is most commonly found in the red tops has now been adopted by the broadsheets and politicians of the Conservative party; I will in future find it extremely difficult to take some of these politicians and publications seriously when I recall their words of today and of next week.

Conservative leader David Cameron who has accused the Prime Minister of "treating the British people as fools" because he did not call a snap election; needs to look more closely at his own words and actions.
The Conservatives only policies which have received a fair degree of public acceptance are ‘no Stamp Duty for first time buyers’ and ‘Inheritance Tax Threshold set at 100%’; these are one week old and polarised from David Cameron’s policies of the previous 22 months, so whose policies are these?
Even though these policies appear fiscally challenged they are clearly not the policies of David Cameron, they are the policies of the right of the Conservative Party; the cost of silence from the right during conference week must have been the inclusion of their agenda.

David Cameron therefore is incorrect to claim “…the Conservative Party is making the arguments about the changes this country needs…” where in reality the right of the Conservative Party’s old and trusted agenda to appeal to the self interest of the 6% who actually pay inheritance tax; these are the policies that David Cameron has clearly stated he is diametrically opposed to, well at least that was true for the 22 months that preceded last week’s Conservative conference.

David Cameron’s claim that Gordon Brown does not have a mandate seems to indicate that he, David Cameron, does not understand the British political system or it is his intent to stand for President of the United Kingdom at the next General Election.

Not losers all round, especially those who did not want an election, except perhaps for the advisors who were urging Gordon Blair to promote probability and encouraging him to go to the country; will we see a change in Gordon Brown’s back room boys? Young Alexander to receive a horrorscope (sic) reading?

  • 16.
  • At 04:07 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • john wrote:

What is it about the Labour Party and elections? Brown was annointed, so was Wendy Alexander. Neither has ever contested a real election where the outcome was in doubt [whereas Salmond took a mighty risk in standing in Gordon]. The Labour Party does not seem to like the idea of letting other people have a say in how the country is run. I think this is the start of a slow steady decline for Labour

  • 17.
  • At 06:13 AM on 15 Oct 2007,
  • Michael McFarlane wrote:

We remember the last Holyrood Election. The one that was "led" by "team Brown" and headed by Douglas Alexander.

When, might we expect to learn what caused the votes of approximatly 150,000 people to be declared `VOID`?. And how will they ensure the system never again fails?

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