'Labour's Lost It' Gordon Brown's Last Stand
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is facing a general election he is almost certain to lose. But his challenger David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservatives, is something of an unknown quantity. Whoever wins, the country's economic problems mean that Britain's next leader will face an unenviable task.
For Trevor Kavanagh, the hunting season he has been looking forward to for years is finally beginning. He has never been fond of Labour politicians, but now they are like unprotected game.
Kavanagh, who is bald, has a beard and is wearing a suit, is one of those militant columnists unique to London: a tabloid intellectual, conservative, charming and ruthless. He works for the British tabloid newspaper The Sun.
Until now Kavanagh, 67, one of the country's most influential journalists, has always had to exercise restraint when writing for The Sun. Although he has been saying for years that the Labour government was "breathtakingly incompetent," his boss, Sun owner Rubert Murdoch, liked the government.
The media magnate supported the party, but only as long as former Prime Minister Tony Blair was its leader. In fact, Murdoch is partly responsible for Blair having been the Labour prime minister in office for the longest term in British history. Blair showed his appreciation with small favors.
End of a Long Friendship
His successor Gordon Brown, 58, is also pinning his hopes on Murdoch. The two men are acquainted and often speak with each other. Kavanagh believes that the publisher still genuinely admires Brown's intelligence and his work ethic. But now Murdoch is tired of the Labour government, as Kavanagh has been for a long time. Under the September 2009 headline "Labour's Lost It," the newspaper officially terminated its friendship with the party.
The Labour Party lost its magic a long time ago, as did Tony Blair, who the British cannot forgive for having loyally followed former US President George W. Bush into the Iraq war. At the end of January, Blair will be called to testify before an independent public inquiry into the Iraq War. He will be asked to respond to charges that he lied to the public over going to war. His appearance could turn into a public tribunal on 13 years of Labour rule, and perhaps even -- just a few months before the election -- into a premature end to the Labour era.
On Friday, it was confirmed that Gordon Brown will also give evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the general election, following pressure from the opposition to do so. His official spokesman said that Brown was "keen to take up the opportunity to state the case about why Britain was right to take the action it did in respect to Iraq." His appearance date is likely to be set for the end of February or the beginning of March.
In the election campaign, which has now begun, the hapless Brown will not just be running against his fresher Tory challenger David Cameron, as well as contending with devastating poll numbers and greedy bankers. One of his foes is a combative newspaper with a well-developed sense of what the public wants, a paper that has not backed an election loser in decades.
Eight million Britons read The Sun every day, and many of them are swing voters, the people Kavanagh wants to fire up between now and May 6, currently the most likely date of the election. "We will campaign for the Tories," he says, glowering. There are plenty of hot-button issues for the cover page, a list of all the things Labour failed to achieve. England has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe and the highest rate of heavy drinking among young people. There are stabbings in the inner cities and there is mass unemployment, particularly among young adults. Young people are still leaving state schools without being able to read or write, despite Blair's erstwhile rallying cry of "Education, education, education."
The United Kingdom is the last major industrialized country still in a recession, the deepest since 1945. The budget deficit exceeds 12 percent, the highest since the end of World War II. Rating agencies are threatening to downgrade Great Britain's credit rating. In the 30 months since Brown came into office, the British pound has lost a quarter of its value against the euro. Banks, once the pride of the British economy, are now despised by many for their role in the destruction of billions in assets.
In the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, 108 British soldiers died last year alone, while hundreds more were severely injured, partly because the military lacks the funds to buy more helicopters and better-armored vehicles.
Links to Murdoch
The Sun's journalistic campaign will have clear links to Cameron's campaign. First, the head of the Cameron campaign is a former Murdoch journalist. Second, Murdoch has apparently made a deal with Cameron, under which the media king will do what he can to ensure that the Conservative candidate moves into No. 10 Downing Street, and Cameron will then express his gratitude. If he becomes prime minister, Cameron would consider limiting the powers of media regulators, with whom Murdoch is often at odds.
A change is taking shape in Britain, but there is no sense of pleasant anticipation in the air. The mood in the country is too glum, and Cameron is no Blair, and certainly not a Barack Obama.
Every poll confirms a slim-to-solid lead for the Tories, even in traditional Labour strongholds like Wales and the Midlands. But because of the country's majority voting system, it won't be easy to transform a lead into a victory. In Labour's heyday, election districts were gerrymandered in such a way that the party still enjoys a massive built-in advantage today. This means that even if the Tories win many more votes than Labour, they could still lose the election. To claim a victory, the Conservatives would have to defend their current position in the parliament (193 seats) and add 133 new seats.
"We're fed up with Brown. All of us," Kavanagh told his readers. Even "Poppy, 19, from Somerset" is fed up. The model on the tabloid's infamous Page Three starts off by showing Sun readers her breasts, but then she makes a political confession: "We do need change -- but starting at the top."
- Part 1: Gordon Brown's Last Stand
- Part 2: No More Cool Britannia