Friday, 25 July 2008

The morning after the night before

Another crushing by-election defeat, another government response that includes warm phrases such as "listening and learning" and re-assurances about feeling your pain.

Governments often lose by-elections but last night was a surprise to many of the many Labour MPs - and the media - who had spent time in Glasgow recently.

Gordon Brown tells us he is "getting on with the job" - it's become a familiar refrain after by-election disasters. The post-poll routine has almost become part of the British constitution. There's inevitable speculation about the Prime Minister's future, although so far the rolling news channels have failed to persuade critics other than usual suspects Lord Desai and Graham Stringer to take to the airwaves.

Bob Marshall-Andrews dismissed "listening and learning" as "platitudinous nonsense" but warned that many of the events worrying voters are only under the marginal control of government.

Mr Stringer suggested (as he usually does after by-election defeats) that Cabinet Ministers should visit Mr Brown and tell him the time's up, a Labour equivalent of the Tories' men in grey suits.

Speaking of Tories, I've (finally) been reading Gyles Brandreth's Breaking the Code, an entertaining inside account of the dying days of an accident-prone government led by an unpopular Prime Minister.

We all know how that one finished but if it's any consolation John Major's Conservatives suffered by-election swings of more than 30 per cent.

You could be forgiven for thinking politicians had shelved their holiday plans. Parliament's Welsh affairs committee, as I reported on Wednesday, have been keeping me and the rest of the Welsh media busy during the recess. (For which, many thanks.).

Some members of the committee, which often gives the impression that publicity is an unwanted occupational hazard, appear surprised by the fuss their comments have caused.

The Welsh media are often accused of an obsession with constitutional change. I dare say the minutiae of the legislative process will shift few votes during the next general election, but if it keeps a few political anoraks off the streets I will not have toiled in vain.

Peter Black's comments about the committee's "world tour" may not go down well with its Liberal Democrat member although not all MPs on the Welsh affairs committee think their inquiry into globalisation has been a terribly productive use of their time.

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