Thursday, December 13, 2007

The role of a Prime Minister

Much capital is being made of the fact that a historic treaty is being signed by European Union members today, with elected heads of state all being present at the ceremony: all that is except Gordon Brown. While he has agreed Britain's commitment to the treaty, and refused a referendum on the basis that it does not impact on the British constitution, it is David Miliband as Foreign Secretary who is the signatory. The media, bloggers and Conservative opponents (the latter calling him "gutless" and "indecisive") ask the question of whether this demonstrates an uncertainty in relation to the treaty and some abrogation of responsibility.

What was Brown doing instead, he agreed to appear before the House of Commons liaison committee (the role of which is to consider general matters relating to the work of select committees) discussing all areas of policy before senior British MPs. Topics ranged from public services to police pay to whether Brown was enjoying his new job. My soundbite of the day was that he is "reading newspapers more but enjoying them less", though one does wonder why he reads them more as PM than as Chancellor of the Exchequer or if he enjoyed them more when his colleague and close friend Tony Blair was under a highly critical microscope - but I digress.

It makes me wonder what we expect a PM to do. Should he be signing a treaty or should he be answering the questions of the representatives of the people; given that he was a key figure in negotiations from which the treaty emerged perhaps his signature does not matter as much anymore. Or perhaps as Head of State he should demonstrate his commitment on behalf of the British people and suggest that the liaison committee reschedule of send a delegate to that instead. Its a tricky one, and one that has problems in terms of selling the idea.

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