Today, as Gordon Brown takes over from Tony Blair as the new Prime Minister of Great Britain, it seems a reasonable time to assess the politics of the nation, the standing of each party with the electorate and their chances of forming the next government.
First, let's look at the man who will be the incumbent by the end of the day, Gordon Brown. What impressions have we gained of this son of the manse over the last ten years? He's dour, grim, can do difficult sums. Except over the last few weeks he's been doing his best to reverse that image. He has appeared smiling, joking, approachable and friendly. Maybe it's because he's now got the job that he's always wanted, and he intends to enjoy it, rather than moping about the place. In terms of policy, we can probably expect more of the same, though a stronger focus on domestic affairs rather than international matters wouldn't hurt. Overall he looks like he's going to try to present a new face, and yet a different one to Tony Blair. Less spin, more honesty, integrity, and conviction. Whether any of that will ring true remains to be seen.
David Cameron, on the other side, is still trying to capitalise on being the new, young, thrusting leader of the Conservative Party. Of course, this also involves making everyone else look old z— hence the line at the end of his response to Brown's last budget: 'He is the past!' So, presenting yourself as the new, young man is a really positive image. However, we are yet to see any substance behind that image. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Tony Blair became PM on precisely that basis. He looked good, but we hardly knew anything about him. It can work. But the last month has been a bad one for Cameron. The cracks between him and the party are starting to show. And when Quentin Davis crossed the floor to the Labour Party yesterday, he delivered a scathing attack on Cameron's lack of policy and substance. The big question, though, is whether the development of policy will improve his chances of becoming the next Prime Minister or not.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the oldest of the three leaders, is a difficult man to place. His claims that his party is the only credible opposition to Labour. Problem is, it doesn't sound like it. It did when Charles Kennedy was the leader, and before Cameron took over the Tories, but the landscape has changed, and the Lib Dems haven't changed with it. Yes, their principled oppostion to the war in Iraq has won them points, but the more they mention it, the more they look like they have a one-track mind, and that is not a good selling point. The party must start saying other things as well if it wants to improve its standing. In the previous two elections I seriously believed that the Lib Dems could become the Oppostion. David Cameron has changed that. And under Sir Ming's leadership they are starting to look irrelevant again. They must sense this in the party. Ming is the Michael Howard of the Liberals. Not much will happen here until a new leader comes along. Or maybe an old one.
What Happens Next?
So, that's the parties as of today. We will see what happens in the future. Will Gordon display a friendly, winning personality with honesty and humility? Will Dave's Tories create some policies beyond spin and headline chasing? Will the Liberal Democrats find their direction again? Only time will tell.