Peter Hoskin

The chip on Brown’s shoulder

The chip on Brown's shoulder
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So the former roadblock is now a born-again reformer – and, like most born-again types, he wants everyone to know about it.  Writing in today's Guardian, Gordon Brown sells his proposal for a referendum on the alternative vote system as "a rallying call for a new progressive politics."  And, from there, he gallops through written constitutions, Lords reform and digital democracy.  Watch him go.  

Amid it all, though, I couldn't help noticing that the PM repeats a key mistake from last year:

"I am inviting the leaders of all parties to engage positively in these debates and back our constitutional reform and governance bill. So far the Conservative leadership have offered soundbites about the price of chips in the Commons canteen, or proposed changes to parliament that would promote their party's interests. But every time they have been tested on the big issues of reform - from devolution to the future of the hereditary peers - the Tories have been found wanting."

Spot what it is?  Well, putting aside the general caricature of the Tory position (that must be the, ahem, "new politics" talking), it's the scornful aside about the "price of chips in the Commons canteen."  

The reference is, of course, to David Cameron's September speech about "cutting the cost of politics" – in which he proposed, among other things, an end to subsidised food and drink in Parliament.  I thought at the time that it was a smart speech from the Tory leader.  He admitted himself that the measures weren't a complete fix for either the fiscal or democratic deficits.  But they dealt with several perceived unfairnesses and, you imagine, resonated with the public in the process – or at least more so than the Queen's Speech, a few weeks later, which failed to mention expenses at all.

I'm rather surprised that the other parties haven't followed Cameron's lead on this.  In the case of MPs' expenses and perks, the small things – the chips, the duck houses, the film rentals – do so often matter.  By ignoring this, Brown is simply highlighting how cut off he really is.