One task more declined, one more foot-path untrod,
One more devils'-triumph and sorrow for angels,
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life's night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation and pain,
Forced praise on our part--the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!
The last lines of Robert Browning's poem, The Lost Leader have been widely quoted against politicians, especially since they were used so effectively against the declining Harold Macmillan during the Profumo scandal.
It does not look good- the government seems accident prone and whereas Tony Blair was a lucky leader, Brown, with his volcanic intensity seems too brooding and driven to be likable. He clearly is a bright and thoughtful man, but his angry motivation is alienating and difficult. His secretive and mistrustful nature has isolated him in his party and in Parliament; and all of this has become apparent in only six weeks.
In hindsight, the decision to delay the general election seems likely to lead to a completely different political environment over the course of the next two years. Instead of moving forward, the government has made a series of catastrophic decisions: the abolition of taper relief on capital gains tax will cause significant problems in the private equity business, while the changing of the 90 day a year non-dom rule to include the days travelling will cause a significant number of hedge funds to leave London. The run on Northern Rock has left tax payers with an open ended commitment of billions of Pounds and brutally exposed the weaknesses in the British regime of financial regulation. The fiasco of the missing data discs simply shows up the fatal flaws in a flagship policy of the Labour government: the multi billion Pound ID cards project.
The global economic background grows bleak indeed- the political environment for Labour grows colder. So cold that the dreaded word "sleaze" has returned to haunt a sitting government. Sleaze is usually a symptom of a failure, rather than its ultimate cause. The question now is can Labour recover?
In my view the answer is: No.
The next question is altogether more complicated: so, what next?
In my view, this could be a dramatic opportunity for the Liberal Democrats- thus the choice of new leader will be a significant factor in how the party takes advantage of this opportunity.
I will address that issue tomorrow.