In both the Republic and the UK, the main opposition parties are leading the government by a huge margin, the crucial difference being that Fianna Fail have more than a two year breathing space in which to recover; while for Labour, the sands of time run out in a years time and Labour is actually trailing at third. Both sets of polling results suggest that the political establishments will manage to survive, with the qualification that a very low poll could confound that impression. Labour is not quite the same as Gordon Brown of course. For me the severest blow against the PM was dealt today when Vince Cable, Lib Dem economics sage and probably the only trusted politician alive, put the black spot on Chancellor Alistair Darling for alleged expenses irregularities. The Daily Telegraph reports for Monday morning:
Mr Darling moved into Downing Street and began to claim second home allowances for his grace-and-favour apartments, meaning that costs relating to two of the Chancellor’s homes were being met by the taxpayer. That would appear to contravene parliamentary rules that allow MPs to claim on only one property at a time. He was also receiving rent for his flat from at least September 2007.
The attack is all the more wounding for coming out of the blue from such as impeccable quarter. It is very doubtful that Brown could survive the Chancellors disgrace even if he dropped him from the government altogether on Friday. So far Darlings neck has escaped the noose. The main new charge against him seems the comparatively minor one of a £ 1000 service charge. Letting out the property may now be frowned on but is not against the existing rules if he did not claim mortgage interest. However Vince, writing in the Mail on Sunday, says:
Until this crisis broke, I never engaged in personal, as opposed to political, criticism. I thought he was a fundamentally decent man doing an extremely difficult job. When he was accused of flipping homes and getting the taxpayer to pay his accountancy bills, I was stunned. I assumed that either a good explanation or a resignation would follow. Neither did. I then assumed that a proper independent investigation would be launched to clear his name. Nothing
When Vince who is fending off calls to become a one-man emergency coalition Chancellor himself, calls for Darling to quit, the chances of Brown’s leadership surviving another full year begin to decline even if Gordon shifts him in a reshuffle after the expected dire election results on Friday. Why though did the Telegraph return to Darling’s record tonight after giving him a good going over last week? Prompted by the Cable article, and with a pro-Tory political motive, by any chance?
After lying low for 10 days, the PM surfaced to give a spirited interview to Andrew Marr today, brushing aside any suggestion of quitting. Surprisingly, the pro-Labour but bitterly anti-Gordon commentator John Rentoul find this credible for now as Labour is braced for disaster. September however could bring a different story, Rentoul thinks.
And what of Europe itself, you know, the continent with the big starry flag no one waves much? Heartening to note that in the UK the Greens are forging ahead of UKIP and the fascist horrors are flat lining. The Observer today did a great exposee of the vileness of their racism in private behind their smoother public front.
The Conservatives are now so Eurosceptic that their fliers could equally easily support the case for withdrawal. Cameron’s stance on quitting the main Conservative grouping in the European Parliament ( an awkward legacy of the past, I suspect) has attracted lofty condemnation from a string of retired Europhile grandees incited by the Guardian, (” a rigid commitment to impotence”) and the scorn of former Tory donor now UKIP supporter Stuart Wheeler who is wagering Cameron 100k that if he wins power he won’t hold a referendum on the treaty if the Irish pass it second time around in the autumn. Referenda may turn out different from elections but the way Mr Ganley is looking in Dublin, Mr Cameron may yet be let off the hook
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London