It was revealed recently that in 1995 the US Secret Service had to rescue Boris Yeltsin from the kerb outside the White House after he got hammered and tried to flag down a cab wearing nothing but his pants. British politics has not generated as eccentric a character for some time but for those wanting to watch a politician discernibly in need of rescue one only had to watch the Prime Minister on GMTV a couple weeks ago.
The irony is that whilst he is hammered by the press at home, Brown is lauded abroad – indeed, he jetted off to the States to speak at the UN this week and while there he was presented with the World Statesman of the Year award. It’s such a disparity in domestic and international popularity that draws parallels with another figure from the pantheon of former Russian leaders; hailed as a statesman across the globe but reviled at home, Gorbachev can be best characterised as unwittingly orchestrating the downfall of a system he’d spent his lifetime defending.
Similarly, the PM is the architect of many of the problems he now faces; Labour made a case for public spending (or ‘investment’) when it entered office but the means for raising revenue were never commensurate with the sums spent. As a result the UK entered the recession with an already burgeoning budget deficit; a 25% collapse in tax revenues post-credit crunch looks set to push the deficit to £175bn. To put this in perspective, 1 pound in every 7 spent by the government will have to be borrowed and it is this harsh contraction in the amount of money the state has at its disposal to dole out that will form the backdrop against which the next election campaign is will be played out.
Now that it is conference season, the language of ‘difficult choices’ and ‘the c-word’ (cuts if you were wondering) echo around the chambers as delegates applaud uneasily. It already seems that disquiet from party members is behind Nick Clegg’s decision to row back from his previous call for ‘savage cuts’; the net effect of all this for the Lib Dems has unfortunately seen them credited for candour and criticised for being confused all in the space of a few days.
Back on the GMTV sofa, Brown was adamant that he would lead Labour into the next election. The worst-case scenario for Labour is also the most likely; plenty of leadership speculation but no coup. James Purnell is the man to watch, but his time is perhaps another general election away yet.
The received opinion then is that the next election is the Tories’ to lose. This very fact will put added pressures on Cameron and Osborne as they come up to the Conservative Party conference for theirs is almost the hardest task of all- much like a British tennis player 2 sets up, they simply have to keep their nerve and not fluff it. Whether they can rise to the challenge remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure though; the starting pistol for next election has been cocked and is being held aloft in expectation…