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Are the kids all right?

Nick Robinson | 15:19 UK time, Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The battle for Gordon's ear is fast becoming a battle of the generations. It is the kids of the Cabinet who are arguing most vociferously for him to go the polls. It is the Cabinet's grey hairs who are worrying about how it might go horribly wrong.

This morning when Ed Balls was asked whether the PM was likely to risk an early election he replied, "it's a very interesting question as to where the gamble really lies". His point - one made often behind the scenes - is that things may only get worse from now on. The gamble, in other words, could be to hang on rather than go early.

Meanwhile Margaret Beckett spoke today for many of her generation still in the Cabinet when she warned about the volatility of the polls - as seen in 1970 - and recalled the difficulty of getting voters out to vote in the dark and the rain - as in October 1974.

If you believe that Brown will listen to those he's worked with closely for years as his aides - Messrs Balls, E Miliband, Alexander and others - then go put your money on an early poll.

If you think he'll listen to others - Messrs Darling, Straw, Hoon, Johnson - keep your cash in the bank.

Remember this as you decide what to do. The generations have very different interests. The oldsters will be happy with another year or two in government. The youngsters dream of crushing the Tories so that their generation of Labour leaders can hold power for another decade.

There is one factor that the kids should bear in mind. If Gordon Brown were to go to the polls and win it wouldn't be long before people asked whether he planned to fight another election. If there were any doubt about it then a long shadow leadership campaign would begin threatening the very unity which they're so treasured this week.


  • 1.
  • At 04:01 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Johnny Lyttle wrote:

"If you believe that Brown will listen to those he's worked with closely for years as his aides - Messrs Balls, E Miliband, Alexander and others - then go put your money on an early poll.

If you think he'll listen to others - Messrs Darling, Straw, Hoon, Johnson - keep your cash in the bank."

Wouldn't I be better betting on a late poll? Why would I keep the cash in the bank?!

  • 2.
  • At 04:05 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Richard Marriott wrote:

Don't worry, there won't be an autumn election - it is just a game Brown is playing to wrong foot the opposition. Against an autumn election: he could conceivably lose it when Labour still has 3 years to go, Labour are likely to be mauled at the polls in Scotland, autumn elections seem unlucky for the ruling party, the EU summit is looming.
So, reading the entrails, I say no. But if it does happen I will be fighting with all my strength to see the back of this ghastly, treacherous, illiberal, Labour mess.

  • 3.
  • At 04:10 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Bryant Yates wrote:

Sorry Nick but really!!!

For the past decade Gordon has had only one goal in mind - being PM.

"wouldn't be long before people asked whether he planned to fight another election"

What a laugh, Gordon is going to be there to fight the next two elections, a snap one late this year and then another in five before handing the reigns over to his annointed.

  • 4.
  • At 04:44 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Andrew A wrote:

Surely voters who can't be bothered to exercise their right (duty) to vote "in the dark and the rain" - don't deserve the vote.

But without such fickle, vacuous people Labour wouldn't win, would they?

Congratulations to all those on the Left. Mission accomplished. This country's finished.

  • 5.
  • At 04:50 PM on 26 Sep 2007,

It is only five months ago Labour polled 27% and the Conservatives 40% in the local elections. The polls can quickly change. Also will The Sun switch sides especially as they are demanding a vote of the Euro Treaty....

  • 6.
  • At 05:10 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

Jonathan Freedland comments on fixed term elections and the benefits of going when the poles are high but he overlooks the problems of a so-called lame duck leadership and the deeper commitment needed to sustain a government. I'd add proportional representation into this mix just to round it out. The question, here, isn't just about dry issues of performance, support, and the distribution of gain, it's about the fundamentals of human nature and life itself.

The managers and rocket scientists of the Labour party are preparing their troops for an election and pouring over rarefied statistics but this is merely the arms race of ego. It's an expensive game that costs a fortune for incremental and dubious advantage. For all the talk, clip charts, and budgets, they're just children playing with their bricks and screaming in the garden. It's an amusement but nothing serious, and should give way to maturity in time.

There are those who wish to seize the crown, and others who wish to kiss the ring. This craving underlies their clever and smooth words. Best ignore this raving and let it pass. Be a silent brick wall and let sense emerge from behind the curtain when the excitement has died down. This way, a more considered and flexible consensus might develop between the young and old generations. This dialogue is important for developing the calm and unity the nation needs.

Peter Drucker said: "I have never talked of empowerment and never will. I consider it a despicable word. I have always talked about responsibility and only of responsibility. Only if there is responsibility can there be authority – that too is the first lesson of political science. If an organisation is based on power, it makes no difference whether that is at the top or the bottom. It is an abomination and an offence, and so I will only talk of responsibility. One must push responsibility down as far down as one possibly can. That leads to authority."

If Gordon Brown is the "father of the nation", as some suppose, he will do nothing. In doing nothing, people will be forced to take time to understand their arguments and desires, within the Labour Party and without, and this reflection will help trim a few rash and selfish egos. As much as it's a management and scientific issue, this judgement is a spiritual issue; not just what and when but why. It is not about ideologies and power for their own sake, it is about responsibility.

  • 7.
  • At 05:34 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

Gorllom has only just got his precious. I don't think he'll let Frodo Cameron get a sniff at it until he has to.

  • 8.
  • At 05:45 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Albert wrote:

Hi Nick. This looks more like understanding what kind of a person Brown really is. Let's see what one of the enemy had to say as of late:

It was the "perfect response" to David Cameron's attempts to become the 'heir to Blair'.
Rejected any suggestion that Baroness Thatcher, 81, had been exploited by the PM in making her visit to No 10, saying she knew "exactly what she was doing".
Many voters would think Mr. Cameron did not know how the other half lives.
I have considerable regard for Mr. Brown and the invitation to Lady Thatcher was Gordon Brown at his best , a wonderful mixture of his courtesy and his political nous.
Guess who uttered these words? It was Lord Tebbit. Yes that’s right a Tory from the right. At least Lord Tebbit sticks to his guns, no matter where and no matter who!
In short Lord Tebbit is saying that Cameron has no political common sense and all that he says, he says it, to please the public in front of him!
Look at the latest burble from Cameron, “ We have a £30m election chest to fight and a draft manifesto.
So winning elections depend on money, money, money, and where policies are concerned, they’re still a draft! Some are saying to Cameron, hold on to that £30m chest cause the way you’re going it can only go down in value, as your friends are donating to the Labour Party instead! Have a nice day Nick.

We should all stop to ask why one man has so much power over such an important aspect of democracy as when we are allowed to vote.
If we had fixed term elections then everyone - including the media - could concentrate on the real issues and leave the froth of the campaigning to a predictable period.

  • 10.
  • At 06:39 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • JonT wrote:

Charles, bless you for turning a gossipy blog from young Nick into the basis for a deep debate! I've always been told that the most effective organisations run on a blend of:
a) authority,
b)responsibility and
The Blair years, and I'd add the Major years and Thatcher years to them, have clearly caused "government watchers" to worry about that "holy trinity", and the public to lower their estimation of politicians. If it's Brown's wish to re-apply those three concepts to (in order) a) the role of cabinet decision making, b) of the whips, and c) of parliamentary debate in the running of the country, then he'll go a long way to improving the effectiveness of the government machine, as well as public approval. You lose me a little on the spiritual matter, but you remind me of a different "holy trinity", that of faith, hope and charity, where faith = confidence + humility, hope = a state of readiness to succeed, and charity = the ability to give ground to those who disagree with you. He's got three years, and I hope he uses them for all our benefit. Maybe if he reads these blogs, he'll at least ponder long and hard about why the words "never again" appear so stridently from so many posters.

  • 11.
  • At 08:31 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Bob Oliver wrote:

You can be certain of one thing - Gordon will keep the Tories guessing and guessing and in the end Cameron will run out of steam and they will move another TB pastiche into their leadership.

Wait till the sun shines then we'll see.

  • 12.
  • At 08:45 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Stephen Newton wrote:

This is all very straightforward. Brown is on a huge wave at the moment, but if Cameron does well in Blackpool he's likely to ride it out till next year and consolidate his lead by trying to trounce Cameron in the commons - the timing of his ascension to PM was unfortunate, he hasn't had time to flourish in the circus. If on the other hand Cameron has an absolute mare of a conference, polling day will come so quickly it will be startling. Brown is patient, but not indecisive. As most people accept, getting his party in election mode has guaranteed him an easy ride for his first party test - poor discipline is always obvious to the electorate. The only thing that will damage his chances are the EU treaty and the economy. If the tories want to win they need to offer clarity on both issues.

I do worry for British politics as Brown is ushering in what is becoming a one party state which is hugely dangerous. For all that was said about the tories in power at least there was robust opposition to ensure balance

  • 13.
  • At 09:53 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • EON wrote:

It's a weird one.

I'm very, very convinced he'll go for the early option: what you see with Brown,contrary to opinion, ain't always what you get.

His 'bold' move to give Bank of England independence, was done with Ed Balls' pushing... and on the back of an envelope - literally.

So, he can be as bold as brass when he wants.

So much for prudence and 'dithering' and all that malarky.

But, someone I know, very, very close to the PM, reckons he'll wait.

'Cos the party is broke.

And, one that everyone is missing, the Labour leaderhsip wants to see everyone running and screaming when Planet Boris finally descends on London...

  • 14.
  • At 10:03 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • John Constable wrote:

It seems to me that the 'tribal' mainstream political parties are so fixated on each other, that us, the English people, are almost of no consequence at all.

For instance, if Gordon Brown bothered to walk around the backstreets of Bournemouth, where the Labour Party conference is currently being held, he might observe the St. George's Cross being flown from a few gardens and pinned up on some walls.

But he is unlikely to see the Union flag, no matter how many times he mentions 'Britain' in a speech.

Danny Finklestein writing in todays Times wonders why anybody bothers to vote, given that there is no apparent 'connection' between your vote and what actually happens in Government.

We English need to firstky regain our own country and then we could try some experiments in direct and local democracy.

  • 15.
  • At 10:48 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

Although I have memories of the 1970 defeat for Labour there is one very important difference: Roy Jenkins has not been the Chancellor these past 10 years.

Folk forget that the council seats Labour was losing in the mid '60's fell just after Woy's dreadful budgets. The council seats regained in 1970 which gave Harold Wilson a hint to go to the country included those lost in 1967 when, for example, the Conservatives won virtually every council ward in Birmingham - clearly a single swallow that arrived much too early to signify an improvement in Labour's fortunes back then.

Today Birmingham's controlling Conservative group has barely a couple of councillors more than Labour - ten years into what ought to be mid-term blues.

So, times have changed a lot since 1970 and a snap election could well work for Gordon Brown.

  • 16.
  • At 10:55 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • john smith wrote:

its amazing, labour have been in power so long, the nhs is so bad its sub 3rd world, the patients have less than no choice, the wards are filthy, despite "education education education" the inner city and council estate schools are still europes worst - would you really work in them for the same money you could get teaching in middle class suburbia?

and despite this gordon still sounds like he means it when he says the nhs and education are his top priorities, boy oh boy such good acting

we need a real opposition to emerge, a tory party with some real diversity, some working class accents for a start instead of a pure public school cadre

we need real journalists who can ask the obvious questions the patients want asking, some substance, and not let gordon and his cronies get away with gloss

this is so bad for the country, no the wonder nobody bothers to vote, its all so sad

but people are so mad, if only there was something they could do with their vote to really change it

  • 17.
  • At 11:33 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Steve wrote:


I voted for the first time in 1970 & the situation then was a lot different.

Labour had had 4 years, just over, of a 2nd term & the man who called it had been PM for nearly 6 years. People had possibly had enough of HIM & not his party at that stage.

In 1970, Labour had been ahead in most polls since c 6-9 months before. Before that, 2 years of economic crises had seen the Tories nearly always ahead. The 3rd party was getting about 12% if that in those days, too.

Now, one interesting thing. Back in Feb or so, Tory lead of 5-6 % AND if Gordon Brown were PM that ROSE to 10-12 %!! I think the plain fact is a lot of people are now thinking Gordon Brown IS different to Tony Blair after all & a change for the better. If enough floaters,iffies & Tory voters still feel that way after next week's conference, expect a poll imminently.

Possibly claiming to be the spiritual heir to Mr Blair was not an inspired thing to say, by Mr Cameron? If people want change,that may tie you to the outgoing failed leader; if they want continuity, they won't want a change of government anyway.

And I'm sorry to tell a few fellow posters, but Iraq is NOT down to Gordon Brown. Most of the decisions came down to Tony Blair,Jack Straw & Geoff Hoon and the rightly-criticised sofa style government.

  • 18.
  • At 02:22 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • gwenhwyfaer wrote:

Andrew A wrote: "Congratulations to all those on the Left. Mission accomplished. This country's finished."

I can assure you, Mr A, that having been nowhere near any position of power for the last 28 years, nobody on "the Left" had anything to do with it.

  • 19.
  • At 07:52 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Bill Holden wrote:

The uncertainty around the date for the next election has had a few possitive effects, more people are activly engaging with the debate than usual which has got to be good for democracy as a whole, and at least the constituencies are dusted down and ready to go. As an independent candidate at the last general election and hopefully standing again this time I am hoping that the new level of debate will allow people to see well beyond party positions and choose representation instead

  • 20.
  • At 08:44 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Jason wrote:

For a Government that has squandered millions on a more than dubious war in Iraq, plus the hash they have made of the NHS with the biggest IT programme failure in history, the rising tide of infection, and the cock-up with the consultant programme ("it will be cost neutral- trust us"), then add into the mix being bombed on our homeland, and not forgetting the rise of guns, inner city 'no-go' areas, and I have to say you cannot, believe me, you must not, use any form of rational or ideological thought to understand a Government that is just an advertising machine!!

Interesting perspective, Nick. I think the cold, wind and rain might work out slightly better for the Conservatives, who know they are in for the fight of their lives should an autumn election be called.

  • 22.
  • At 10:07 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Mad Max wrote:

Messrs Brown, Straw et al are the guardians of MP's pensions. Its their job to ensure that all MP's except themselves only accrue a maximum of 1.8 million over their life time.

Now given Browns personal pension is worth over 2 million with a 4 million Prime Ministers pension bonus, would you risk all this lucre with a gamble at the polls?

MPs have lost the trust of the electorate in many ways and this is just one of them.

On a school trip to the Commons as a boy I remember our local MP making a point of showing us the hole in his shoe, acting at its finest, nevertheless it was a metaphor that said, I'm here not for personal wealth, but for the Greater Good.

I'm afraid our MP's of all persuasions are very well shod these days, full of tricks and wealthy to boot. I predict a low turn out at the upcoming election, if it happens - it seems Brown has to consider the political, moral hazard amongst other things before he acts.

  • 23.
  • At 10:38 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Daniel wrote:

Andrew A wrote: "Surely voters who can't be bothered to exercise their right (duty) to vote "in the dark and the rain" - don't deserve the vote.

But without such fickle, vacuous people Labour wouldn't win, would they?"

Is it any wonder that the right wing are almost certain to lose election after election if that is their attitude to the British electorate - its quite disgraceful. Gordon Brown should go for an election this autumn.

  • 24.
  • At 11:03 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Paul Perrin wrote:

Interesting angle.

Win or lose, the youngsters will be around for the next one, whereas if brown loses he will be out and regret it forever.

Unforunatly this will mean we have to wait a bit longer to discard the man (and party) who stole our pensions and mortgaged our childrens (and grandchildrens)future; and then recklessly squandered the proceeds for his/their own, temporary, glory.

  • 25.
  • At 11:44 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

I reckon Gord will go for an election in October - and I reckon he's going to wipe the floor with the Tories. And I reckon the Tories will end up being divided into two parties and I reckon that will be the end for the Conservative party. And I reckon William Hague will lead the new rght-wing Neo-Con Party and I reckon Kenneth Clarke will lead the rebranded Torytive Party.

  • 26.
  • At 11:45 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

I'm sure Charles is post is interesting but I stopped reading after the first paragraph.

I came here to read short, reactionary and occasionally funny comments; not to be educated.

  • 27.
  • At 11:56 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Ed wrote:


Listen to the comments of Balls,Milibland and Co. - 'Lets trump Cameron, lets grind the Tories into the dust blah blah blah' - none of them seem to care about the poorly educated children, the starving pensioners, the crumbling society. They claim they do but actions speak louder than words and I'm not seeing any changes for the better. Are ten years at the controls not long enough to make something happen?

The electorate don't count one iota - to them we're just a minor inconvenience, required to stick a cross in the right box and think we've played a part in democracy.

To them politics is all just one big game for over enlarged egos. They really don't care. I wonder if the same now applies to most poliitcal journalists as well?

A plague on all their houses.

  • 28.
  • At 12:06 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Michael wrote:

The announcement that Boris Johnson will be the Conservative candidate for the London mayoral election means that the PM will call an election this year.

He has a dual opportunity now. By announcing the election next week he will wreck the Conservative party conference by grabbing the headlines and forcing the BBC to give equal airtime to all parties instead of the focus on themselves that each party has benefited from during their respective conferences.

But he can also enjoy the prospect of Boris having to stand down in Henley in order to prove that he is serious about the London mayoral contest.

Given the PM's visceral hatred of David Cameron and the Conservatives and his continual striving for political advantage (not the same as statesmanlike behaviour) - these two opportunities will guide him.

  • 29.
  • At 12:14 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Much will depend on the European dimension and the calls for a referendum, will the PM decide to call an early election when the precise text of the "Reform Treaty" will be decided by an intergovernmental conference in the second half of 2007 and as such may become the overriding issue in both an October and May Election; the Prime Minister will wish that the election debate is dominated by his programme for the UK, not by a divisive European Treaty.

I feel it is unfair of you to refer to the Cabinet members as “kids” and “greys hairs”, you should need no reminding of President George W Bush’s comments vis-à-vis your age defining feature.

  • 30.
  • At 10:21 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Anne Wotana Kaye wrote:

Dear Nick
Margaret Beckett isn't a rocket scientist, but on this one she's right on. The electorate are scared stiff to venture out after dark. No it's not Dracula they are afraid of, but as the result of government policy for the last decade, there is every chance of a frail, helpless voter getting mugged at the best and stabbed to death at the worst.

  • 31.
  • At 11:03 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Guy Fox wrote:

All this hub-bub over elections in England seems silly compared to the Italians. They dump their PM every month... and consider that normal.

  • 32.
  • At 11:08 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Guy Fox wrote:

Mr. Gordon Brown may want early elections to clean a dirty house that the poodle has made.

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