Two days ago, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown flew to Basra to announce the withdrawal of 1,000 troops in time for Christmas. Critics claimed at the time that Brown had played up the announcement to bolster Labour for snap elections. Now, however, critics have a more substantial complaint — that Brown far overstated the drawdown by counting troops that listened to the announcement from Britain:
The Prime Minister has flown to Basra to announce that 1,000 servicemen would return home by Christmas, leaving a contingent of 4,000.
The move was widely seen as an attempt to prepare the ground for a snap general election. But he faced severe criticism for alleged spin after it emerged that half of the withdrawals had previously been announced and hundreds of the troops were already home. …
Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, accused Mr Brown of treating the troops as “a political football”.
“Does this man have no shame? Once you read the small print you realise we are back to the same old spin. Five hundred of these troops have already been announced and 270 are back in the UK.[“]
Since replacing Tony Blair earlier this year, Brown has made a number of policy announcements cast as new directions, but wound up being restatements of existing policy. The Basra announcement appears to be another example of claiming credit for work already accomplished. In this case, it may have raised the hopes of the men in Basra falsely, believing that more of them would get withdrawn than actually planned.
Brown will face a tough time when he returns to Parliament. Normally, policy announcements are made in the Commons. His flight to Basra to announce what appeared to be a major decision, at least according to his own rhetoric, looks like grandstanding to his critics. Brown had promised specifically not to do that, and the opposition will undoubtedly remind him of that fact when he returns.
If Brown decides to hold an election, it will probably only give a slight dent to the lead that Labour has in the UK. They have remained highly popular despite the Iraq war, and Brown can expect a rather easy ride to retain his position. He had better make sure he isn’t double-counting voters the way he double-counted troops to be sure of his support first, however.