Fraser Nelson

Brown saves the worst till last

Brown saves the worst till last
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We have just witnessed Gordon Brown’s last and most audacious confidence trick. “Gordon Brown to resign” says the television newsflash: but the story was the very opposite. Gordon Brown is staying on, saying – pretty much – that it will take an SAS operation to get him out of No.10 before the autumn. He declared a "constitutional duty" to stay until a new administration is formed "with majority support in the House of Commons". Untrue. You just need a majority to pass laws. One can govern with a parliamentary minority (see Alex Salmond in Edinburgh, and Harold Wilson in 1974). Cameron won the right to govern, when he last week secured a greater share of the vote than Blair in 2005 and two million more votes than Brown. Yet Brown is refusing to acknowledge that right. It matters little: if he cannot strike a deal with the Lib Dems, he must go to the Queen and ask her to send for David Cameron to form a minority government. Or she really will send the SAS in.

But I know that many Tories are hoping that Clegg and Brown do that deal – and be punished for it in the inevitable second election. Brown’s shameless move tonight will appall voters. The Lib Dems will look dreadful for thinking about keeping him in for the four months he craves. Sir David Steel astonishingly described Brown’s statement as “dignified and statesmanlike”.  If Clegg is willing to enter “formal discussions” to make this shameless voter-defying act possible, then he has brought huge discredit to himself and his party. Several Lib Dem MPs will be appalled.

Tonight’s extraordinary events could strengthen Cameron’s hand. It is Clegg who is aiding and abetting this lunacy. The Conservatives are behaving with generosity and decorum. Cameron can now say to Clegg: here is my offer. Take it or leave it. If Clegg were to prop up Brown, the deal would last only a few months and a new election would be brought which could deliver a landslide Tory majority. Also, if Brown stands aside and the Lib Dems and Labour form a losers’ coalition, then the new Prime Minister will be someone who did not even take part in the TV debates. What was the point of those debates, if none of the three candidates make it to the end? It will be seen as a democratic outrage. Nothing is better-guaranteed to inspire a pro-Tory swing when (and it will be when) that next election comes.

So we did not hear a resignation on the steps of No10 today. What we heard was Brown saying he would stay in No10 “no longer than is needed to ensure the path to economic growth is assured,” and until some unspecified time before Labour’s conference in October. But who fancies their chances of dislodging him then? If he won’t resign when he’s lost an election, why should he resign if Labour elects a new leader? Constitutionally, it doesn’t mean he has to leave as PM.

As Lord Owen has just said: “The electorate did not vote against or for proportional representation”. Nor did they vote “for” a hung parliament. In Britain, voters don’t get a chance to vote who is in the government: they can only vote on who represents them locally. The idea that Britain has voted for political reform is nonsense. If we had equal-sized constituencies, like we’re supposed to, Cameron would have won. The party that urges democratic reform – the Lib Dems – did worse, last week, than in the last election.

A Tory-Lib coalition would not, I think, be any more stable than a minority government. Harriet Harman has just walked into No10 – right now she is 25-1 to be the next Prime Minister. And this, dear reader, is how messed up things are right now. They will need to be resolved, as they were in October 1974, with another election in the autumn.