Gordon Brown's falling on his sword after losing the British election may have made life more difficult for the Liberal Democrats as they chose between a party that is more in line politically or the party which won the largest minority. Winston Peters may be finding this awfully familiar

To borrow from George W. Bush, (I know…I know), you’ve done one helluva job Brownie!

But it is not the disaster of Hurricane Katrina clean-up to which the remark is referenced, but to the disaster the British election was for Gordon Brown, resulting in his dramatic sword dive.

Outside No. 10, Brownie told the assembled media that he has asked the Labour Party to put in place the process for choosing a new leader, and he will play no part in competing for, nor back any candidate for that election.

On the surface it is all because he and the Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg don’t get on. In fact Clegg had said in the run-up to the inevitable hung parliament that should he be kingmaker he would not work with Labour if Brown stayed on the political throne.

What Brown is now asking the Lib Dems to do is enter serious coalition negotiations –which they have promptly agreed to do – without knowing who the Labour leader would be until the party’s annual conference in late September! In other words the new British Prime Minister could possibly be one of the many senior Labour ministers who will now be vying for the job. How does Clegg know which one he could work with?.

The odds-on favourite is, of course, the 45-year-old current Secretary of State David Miliband, who just so happens to be capable of adding his rather youthful, polished, man-about-town air to the ‘twins’ currently leading the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

Superficiality aside, the conundrum is truly extraordinary, based as it is on so many unknowns and the one definite – that any coalition negotiations will be done with the unpalatable (to Clegg) Brown leading the Labour team.

For those of us who lived for nearly eight weeks like troglodytes following Winston Peters’ choreography of New Zealand’s first MMP coalition, the goings on at Westminster have an overwhelming sense of deja-vu.

I say troglodytes because of the geography of the party office space in Wellington that provided Peters with his own peculiar method of torture for Jim Bolger and Helen Clark.

New Zealand First was housed in the tower block called Bowen House, which is across the road from the Beehive, where the National/United caretaker government was in residence. Labour was housed in the old Parliament Buildings. Peters conducted his ‘interviews’ for the top job via simultaneous, parallel haggling – as Clegg seems to be doing – and insisted both Bolger’s and Clark’s teams trek across to him. Mountains and Mohammad and all that. The intrepid journey involved descending a steep escalator to an underground ‘travelator’, or moving walkway, negotiating a narrow corridor, crossing the foyer and taking the elevators to Peters’ lair.

The media scrum was strategically stationed at what were guaranteed points of contact – the bottom of the escalator or the foyer of Bowen House. The sound grabs were usually as enlightening as the tiresome and staged negotiation slog, and did not improve as the weeks dragged on. On one occasion I actually suggested to Labour Leader Helen Clark that she had two minutes to talk on a topic of her own choice (while walking the travelator) in a desperate bid to avoid yet another tape of banalities and forced niceties about the stature (politically) of the auctioneer.

As will be the case in London now, concessions – Brown’s head included - will be offered and the tyres on possible perks and paybacks will be undergoing a thoroughly good kicking by Clegg & Co.

One such payment, unlikely though it will be for the Conservatives to cede, will be more than a superficial nod to electoral reform, ironically legitimating through proportional representation the process the Brits are witnessing now.

New Zealand’s first foray into bidding for government is by no means what usually happens, and subsequent elections have not resulted in quite such drawn out theatre.

But there is one crucial similarity that Clegg would be wise to brief himself on.

Throughout the 1996 election campaign New Zealand First slagged the incumbent National Government to within an inch of its life. There was every reason to believe that Peters would choose to throw his pinstripes in with the Labour Opposition and oust his key campaign foe. So much so that many pundits found it bizarre Peters would keep the bidding going for so long. It was sometimes put down to a congenital need for attention.

Then he dropped the bombshell…he anointed Bolger, and the rest as they say is history – turbulent and relatively short-lived as it was.

The reason Peters consistently gave for his decision was in the end he knew he had to go with the party which garnered the most support during the election. That was National. Short of a majority obviously, but still seven seats ahead of Labour.

Nick Clegg is in that hot seat now. His party sits opposite the Conservatives on Britain’s political continuum, yet the Conservatives won the largest chunk of last week’s votes.

Gordon Brown’s hara-kiri for the good of the country has on that basis not really made it any easier for the young Mr Clegg, who may this very moment be muttering “nice one Brownie…that’s one helluva job”.

Comments (4)

by stuart munro on May 11, 2010
stuart munro

Yeah but Peters also said prior to the election, that he would not form a government with the gnats. The man was just a rag in the wind, who would say anything to get his paws on power. Oddly enough, this is not a credible role in a democracy.

The Lib Dems need to remember to respect their public as they form their new government. Ridding Labour of Brown may have been a sufficient precondition for a LibLab alliance. What comparable concession can they wring from Cameron?

by Claire Browning on May 11, 2010
Claire Browning

One such payment, unlikely though it will be for the Conservatives to cede, will be more than a superficial nod to electoral reform, ironically legitimating through proportional representation the process the Brits are witnessing now.

Yes, if nothing else they will want that, and if nothing else, you would think that if Clegg has any wits about him, it would be a key thing driving him not to emulate our Winston, and to learn from the latter's mistakes -- ie, to try to get something as durable as possible together as quickly as possible, in the interests of not pissing off the whole of Britain with MMP-type negotiations before they've even started.

by Toby Manhire on May 11, 2010
Toby Manhire

A few echoes of 96, yes. But more differences than similarities. eg:

- much greater urgency in uk given state of global/euro economy

- clegg unlike peters has elaborate party democratic structure to satisfy ie 'triple lock' see http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/10/liberal-democrats-conserv...

- while it's just like a post-PR election negotiation, it happened under FPP. a la canada, and the most impt priority for lib dems, who have 1/13th of seats with 1/5th of the vote, is electoral reform

whichever way you look at it and however much talk of national interest, first second and third priority for lib dems is survival as a party. another election soon blamed on them, and they're finished, unlike winston, who - what? oh.

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