Snap election? Put a stopper in all the ‘bottling’ (with update 22:00 6 Oct)
The politicians and political commentators have a funny-peculiar way of adopting their own patois to describe current events. Thus none of them seems able to describe a decision by the prime minister not to call a general election this year other than as "bottling it", an expression surely unknown to ordinary people outside Westminster. We're familiar with the idea of a person having "plenty of bottle", which I take to mean something like chutzpah, boldness, readiness to take risks: but this latest cliché seems to mean the opposite, namely playing the coward. The OED online recognises the phrase "to bottle out" as meaning "to lose one's nerve; to back out of an action at the last minute, ‘chicken out’. slang", with a few examples dating back to 1979, almost all from journalism, but in recent days the required inclusion of the 'out' with 'bottle' seems to have got mislaid.
The main objection to the phrase in its current context, though, apart from its having already become a lazy, worn-out cliché, is that it's the opposite of the reality: not to call an election now will require courage, not cowardice, as well as being pretty clearly the right thing to do (or not to do).
Update, 22:00 6 Oct 07: So Mr Broon has plucked up considerable courage and decided not to have an election this year, after all:
Gordon Brown rules out snap election
By Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite
Daily Telegraph website, 06/10/2007
Gordon Brown has ruled out calling a snap general election after a political fightback by the Conservatives.
# Analysis: Gordon Brown's colour now will be yellow
# He would have won, but not by enough
# Q&A: Behind a difficult decision
# Have your say: Has he made the right move?
The Prime Minister today electrified Westminster by ending months of speculation and declaring he will not hold a contest next month. He also said there would not be an election next year, except in "exceptional circumstances". Andrew Marr, who had a one-on-one interview with Mr Brown, said the Prime Minister confirmed "there would not be an election this year, and unless there are exceptional circumstances there will not be one next year". A "remarkably calm, but not sunny" Prime Minister also admitted he had considered calling a snap election, and denied recent poor polls were behind his decision to stall. The move has opened Mr Brown up to Tory charges of “bottling” the decision after opinion polls showed a big Labour lead narrowing rapidly in the face of a resurgent opposition.
Tory leader, David Cameron said: "The Prime Minister has shown extraordinary indecision and extraordinary weakness. He has sent Cabinet ministers out to brief the press, faked troop announcements, faked hospital numbers and brought forward announcements to prepare the ground for a new election. And now we have seen a humiliating retreat."
Stoking up the speculation about an imminent election has turned out to have been a blunder of, probably, middling magnitude. It seems to have been young and inexperienced Brownite ministers who engaged in it, rather than even younger hot-headed staffers, but it must be assumed that the prime minister knew of and acquiesced in what they were doing, even if he didn't personally initiate it. The partisan itch to rattle the Tories at their conference seems to have proved irresistible.
The accusation of cowardice in changing course and deciding against an early election is puerile: in fact that decision required real courage, and shrill talk of "bottling" and "the colour yellow" simply perpetuates the absurd notion, beloved of politicians and their media hand-maidens, that changing one's mind to respond to changed circumstances is evidence of weakness. But there is obvious substance in the accusation that Brown and his ministers seriously misjudged the possible effects on public opinion of the Conservative party conference, including especially Cameron's effective speech and Osborne's (actually dodgy, but evidently popular) announcement about inheritance tax. Even worse was the evident willingness, if it had seemed likely to bring party advantage, to call an early election when the national interest did not require it. The impression of partisan manipulation was strengthened by Brown's gimmicky visit to Iraq in the middle of the Tory conference in what was fairly obviously an ill-judged attempt to steal Tory thunder and to exploit the position of prime minister for political purposes by putting him on display with British fighting troops. The details of these misjudgments will soon be forgotten, after a week or two in which Gordon Brown will have to put up with much mockery (or worse). But this week has probably made a permanent dent in his carefully fostered image as a sober, cautious, relatively unpartisan national leader, leading a broadly-based and similarly high-minded ministry, and able to rise above the petty squabbles and manoeuvres of party in-fighting. Worst of all, he has only himself to thank.
The best that can be said is that the right decision — from virtually everyone's point of view — has finally been taken. It's tempting to speculate about the possibility that a decisive factor in the decision might have been a discreet and deniable hint from the Palace that a formal request for a patently unnecessary dissolution would have the potential for placing the Queen in a most unpalatable quandary — see my reply to a comment on an earlier post, below. Funnier things have happened. But alas! we'll never know.