Gordon Brown always comes across so much better on the very rare occasions when he answers questions directly, even at the risk of showing a degree of fallibility or vulnerability. A good example was when he admitted on the Piers Morgan programme how embarrassed he had been by both the footage of his infamous YouTube appearance, and also of him air-kissing the wives of assorted world leaders. You'd think he might have drawn some lessons from the positive reception that programme received, but it appears not. Tonight, in his Channel 4 News interview with Gary Gibbon, he was very much back to his old ways of pretending not to have heard questions (instead answering the one he wished had been asked), and of flat-out denying reality.
First he was asked if a simple increase in income tax rates would not, just as much as an increase in VAT, have been a viable alternative to the planned National Insurance rise. He pretended that he instead had been asked "Gordon, how successful have Labour been at keeping income tax rates down since you came to power?". Gibbon failed to press the point, but well and truly put Brown on the spot later on by asking why he was proposing a change in the electoral system now, given that - according to Paddy Ashdown - he had been the roadblock to change in the aftermath of the 1997 election. Now, this was a question that would have been very interesting to have heard a direct answer to - I, for one, have always been deeply sceptical about Ashdown's version of events. My guess is that Blair was using Brown's intransigence as convenient cover for the fact that he was no reformer himself. But, naturally, no elucidation on the true sequence of events was forthcoming - instead, Brown essentially lied through his teeth by claiming that the reason why the 1997 manifesto commitment to a referendum on PR had been broken was that the Jenkins commission had "failed to reach agreement". Funny that, I thought they had produced a thoroughly detailed proposal for change.
Anyway, leaving Brown's obfuscation aside, it appears that Labour now have a fairly meaty programme for constitutional reform in this election. Ironically, the one big exception to that is on the electoral system, where they seem to be intent on perpetrating the confidence trick of convincing liberal-minded voters that they're proposing proportional representation, when in fact they are sticking with a firmly majoritarian system - indeed, one that might in some circumstances produce an even less proportional result than first-past-the-post. However, Labour are now - albeit for tactical reasons - pretty firmly committed over the next five years to a wholly elected House of Lords, fixed-term parliaments, and to the implementation of the Calman report in Scotland, all of which would represent significant steps forward. Much as it sticks in my throat to say it, therefore, I'm increasingly of the view that Labour perhaps represent the lesser of two evils in this election.
But our great fortune in Scotland (and in Wales) is that we have a clear alternative to voting for either evil.