Gordon Brown, Tory Madrasas, and the British Elections

I listen to BBC radio sometimes at night before I go to sleep and was surprised a couple of days ago to hear story that Gordon Brown and the Labour party may actually do well in the upcoming elections.  Then I read this story in today’s Washington PostAnthony Faiola writes

Only a few months ago, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown seemed a figure living out a Shakespearean tragedy. An ill-tempered Caesar surrounded by disloyal aides, an out-of-touch King Lear about to lose his throne. But Brown may not yet be ready to make his curtain call.

In fact, the dour Scotsman is staging an unlikely comeback, with his Labor Party rebounding in opinion polls only weeks ahead of a general election. Depending on the poll, Labor is clawing back from a 20 percentage-point deficit last year to within two to six points of the opposition Conservative Party, led by the eloquent and fresh-faced David Cameron.

Though Labor is still trailing in the polls, the party’s defeat after 13 years in power is no longer a foregone conclusion here. And Brown, long seen as far more clumsy and ham-handed than his flashy predecessor, Tony Blair, has recently been garnering rare praise. On Friday, pundits said Brown was more empathetic and politically skilled in answering tough questions before a high-level inquiry on the Iraq war here than Blair was when he appeared before the commission in January.

Yet the biggest reason for the new momentum of the incumbent party in Britain may hearten the Democratic Party in the United States. More than anything else, analysts attribute Labor’s recent rebound not to Brown himself but to the nascent economic recovery here.

There seems to be agreement that Brown also helped himself and Labour with his testimony yesterday before the British panel looking into the Iraq War.  The Guardian story by Patrick Wintour was a bit surprised at Brown’s performance.

Gordon Brown took a major political gamble yesterday by describing Tony Blair‘s decision to go to war in Iraq as “the right decision for the right reasons” and insisting that “everything that Mr Blair did during this period, he did properly”.

Dogged by a reputation for disowning unpopular decisions, Brown used his appearance at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war to deliver a firm defence of Britain joining the US-led invasion, a decision taken and executed when Blair was prime minister and Brown was chancellor.

In his most prolonged inquisition on Iraq since the invasion seven years ago, Brown accepted he had been fully involved in the run-up to the invasion, underlined the gravity of going to war, praised the military and, unlike Blair, expressed his sadness at the huge loss of civilian life in Iraq. His only major equivocation was regret at the way in which he had failed to persuade the Americans to handle the aftermath differently.

The New York Times offers essentially the same facts with a little more color

The hearing was billed as a defining opportunity for Britain to get some answers on the war from Mr. Brown, who as finance minister was the most senior member in the cabinet of his predecessor, Tony Blair. But he kept an even keel and dodged the type of knockout blow that could have hurt him in the national elections widely believed to be coming in May. He reaffirmed the rationale for entering the war while taking care to pay respects repeatedly to the dead and rebuffing critics who accused the Treasury of underfinancing the military during the war.

After his final statement, Mr. Brown let loose with a rare public smile, apparently sending a message that he had nothing to hide and had done nothing to apologize for. As he walked out the front door of the conference center, he took care to shake the hand of a security guard — a marked contrast to an embarrassing moment a year ago when he failed to shake hands, as President Obama had, with a guard at the door of 10 Downing Street. His appearance also contrasted sharply with that of Mr. Blair, who entered the building in secret during his hearing this year to avoid the many protesters who blamed him for Britain’s involvement in the war.

While Brown is busy rehabilitating his dour Scots image and helping Labour, the Conservative candidates are busy studying at a Tory Madrasa according to the Guardian. 

Tory parliamentary candidates have undergone training by a rightwing group whose leadership has described the NHS [National Health Service] as “the biggest waste of money in the UK”, claimed global warming is “a scam” and suggested that the waterboarding of prisoners can be justified.

At least 11 prospective Tory candidates, an estimated seven of whom have a reasonable chance of winning their seats, have been delegates or speakers at training conferences run by the Young Britons’ Foundation, which claims to have trained 2,500 Conservative party activists.

The YBF chief executive, Donal Blaney, who runs the courses on media training and policy, has called for environmental protesters who trespass to be “shot down” by the police and that Britain should have a US-style liberal firearms policy. In an article on his own website, entitled Scrap the NHS, not just targets, he wrote: “Would it not now be better to say that the NHS – in its current incarnation – is finished?”

Blaney has described the YBF as “a Conservative madrasa” that radicalises young Tories. Programmes have included trips to meet neo-conservative groups in the US and to a shooting range in Virginia to fire submachine guns and assault rifles.

The group’s close ties to the Tories were cemented this week when the Conservative party chairman, Eric Pickles, and the shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox, spoke at the annual YBF parliamentary rally at the House of Commons, which was chaired by Blaney.

I wonder what David Cameron, the Conservative leader, thinks.

Eric Pickles at the Tory conference

The picture is of the Conservative Party Chairman, Eric Pickles, speaking at a Young Briton’s rally, kinda like Cantor or Boehner at a tea party I think.  I had to include his picture because he reminds me of Karl Rove even though he is their Michael Steele.

The elections have to be called for sometime before June and it should be interesting.  Democrats take heart – and pass Health Care Reform.

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