The Thick of It


Friday, May 01, 2009

Is there anything Brown can do to save himself now?

David Blunkett's assertion today that Labour "has lost its political antennae" marks a significant juncture in the life of Gordon Brown's government. Even Peter Mandelson commented that "it never rains but it pours." Blunkett suggested that at present Labour is heading for the worst case scenario, a comprehensive defeat. I hope, like Blunkett, that we can plan for the best case and fight all the way to the election.

This has been a woeful week for Brown's government. In losing in the Commons over the right to let Gurkhas live in the UK and having to retreat over MP expenses, the government has shown that it is has lost the strength to stand by its convictions and also has lost touch with public opinion.

It is vital to the success of any leader that they pick their fights and battles wisely. Pick fights they can win and fights that are crucial. This week it would have been sensible to back public opinion over the Gurkhas and to seek a consensus over MP expenses.

I spoke on Victoria Derbyshire's Five Live discussion this morning with Michael White, Bob Roberts and Lance Price about this. I said that Brown needs to use his team more effectively. He takes too much on himself. It is rare to see other cabinet ministers given high profile media coverage (outside of their strict policy remits). Whatever good Brown might do, he has a poor reputation. He has handled the economic crisis well but his poll ratings remain the same.

I'd like to see others given a higher profile. Alan Johnson, James Purnell and Jack Straw have all been very quiet.

Brown has much to offer, shown by his handling of the banking crisis and the G20. Yet any good work by the government is never associated with him and has no effect on opinion polls. The handling of MP expensive is symptomatic of a government machine that is unable to communicate a good idea effectively. Much has been made of the unreasonable claims made by MPs and of Brown appearing on YouTube to announce his plans for reforming the system. This has meant there has been no mention of the fact that it was Labour's policy to open up MP expenses to public scrutiny in the first place.

I'm a strong supporter of Labour in government. The country and public services are in better shape than they would have been if the Tories had been in power - I firmly believe that we'd be in an even bigger financial mess had they been. I had to agree with White though that I don't see any way back for Brown and Labour at the next election. I agreed with Price, that the next 12 months shouldn't be abandoned. We have a year to show that we have a positive agenda and that if Labour does lose, for it not to be catastrophic.

Many of us have been waiting a long time for Brown to take the initiative. I'm preparing for the worst case scenario and hoping for the best.

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