Full steam ahead from the Fat Controller
So Gordon Brown has started the New Year at full pace – and well he might. He has appointed Stephen Carter to the new post of chief of strategy and principal advisor to the prime minister, an appointment which has nothing to do with spin we are told. He has gone on a crusade to save the NHS (something that ten years ago we were told they only had 24 hours to do). This week we get the new and improved nuclear consultation paper that will path the way for new nuclear build in the UK. It’s back to Brownanomics – hit the electorate with hard and fast policy announcements. The hope is that people will forget about his dreadful personality and catastrophic Whitehall departments. It’s going to be a long hard slog though if he is going to keep this up. But Brown has seen the evidence – there are two conditions under which he does well:
Firstly, as the policy maker. Before the non-election Brown was making mince meat of Cameron in PMQs – not by outwitting him or going toe-to-toe in a beauty contest. Rather he was batting away anything Cameron had to say by throwing out policy announcements. The u-turn on casinos was a classic example. It stole the headlines. It worked.
Secondly, as the invisible man. It is no coincidence that Labour’s best surge in the polls has come this week. They are now only four points behind the Tories (enough to retain government at the polls, such is the strangeness of our system). So what caused this mass surge? Father Christmas, Catherine Tate and a large turkey. That is to say, we all forget about politics for two weeks and Gordon Brown’s big old mouth wasn’t boring us to tears in between tics.
And there lies the problem – this next election is still all Labours to lose still. Unfortunately, their biggest threat is their leader who single handedly threatens to sink the Good Ship NuLab. It is not what they are saying – as when they say it we seem to like it and when they shut up entirely we like it even more. No, the problem is Gordon Brown himself. Can he last out 2008? Well, below I will give you my predictions on that and my other political predictions for 2008:
Prediction One: Brown will be challenged at the party conference.
I don’t know if things can get worse for the government, simply because I still don’t think the electorate have bought in to Cameron. But if they carry on as they did in the autumn it won’t take much for the party to start to panic. An election is a long way off right now – but by September it won’t seem so far. If they trail in the polls by double figures by then at the very least there will be a challenge, though how serious will determine whether Brown survives. David Miliband is the key player – has he got the bottle?
Predictions Two: Alastair Darling to be given a sideways move.
The spring cabinet reshuffle is likely to have its casualties. Smith hasn’t impressed at the Home Office, Jack Straw is wasted in Justice and Des Browne has outstayed his welcome at defence by a long shot. Hazel Blears is punching above her weight also. But the big one could be the end to Darling’s short and very embarrassing reign as Chancellor. It would be a brave move by Brown to do so (unless we get more scandal at No.11), but it would be bold too and the right thing to do. Jack Straw must be made Chancellor if he is to restore credibility and some weight to Brown’s top table. I also expect wee Dougie Alexander, Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls to get promotions.
Prediction Three: Nothing much happens to the Lib Dems
OK, so hardly Mystic Meg stuff but all this nonsense about the dawn of a new Lib Dem party were dashed with the arrive of Mr Wet himself Nick Clegg. I rate the man, but it was pathetic watching him been bullied by Huhne. All this is irrelevant anyway, the best the Lib Dems can ever hope to poll is in the low 20s – and that is with an unpopular war and a prevailing wind behind them. However, as yesterday’s polls showed and as I have been suggesting, I do expect a small rise in the Lib Dem vote and at the expense of the Tories. However, overall it isn’t Ming who is old and haggard, it is the party’s politics.
Prediction Four: The Tories will not become the natural party of choice. Yet.
Right now the Tories are doing well because Labour is doing badly. There is still a quantum leap needed for them to really become the party of choice. Labour hit the 60s in the pre-1997 polls and still they doubted whether they were going to win. The Tories are a million miles off holding the position Labour did in the mid-1990s, but if they are to have any hope of forming the next government they need to occupy this ground. The key to doing this is to be humble and doubt themselves at every corner. The vitriolic triumphalism they showed when they had Brown on the ropes was fun to watch at first, but it won’t go down well with the electorate in the long run. Already people are getting fed up with Cameron’s bully boy tactics at PMQs. So you stopped an election you wouldn’t have won? Big deal – how about winning one?
Predictions Five: U-Turns
It is starting with the u-turn on the 24hour drinking u-turn and looks set to continue. ID Cards and 42 day detentions are prime territory for government to make u-turns – and popular they would be too. How will the press report them though?
Predictions Six: Livingstone to remain as Mayor
This is not looking like the foregone conclusion I thought it was a few months ago. I think Boris is playing, contrary to many others opinion, a brilliant campaign so far. By the start of the campaign proper in spring he wants to be in touch in the polls and right now he is neck and neck – far better than he could have hoped. This could go to the wire, but in the end common sense will prevail. I just hope Livingstone doesn’t stoop to cheap and below the belt tactics – playing the race card against Boris is just unpleasant and very damaging to London.
The Economy Stupid
Of course, there are all the other factors that are likely to impact 2008 – most importantly the credit crunch and global economy. I have always believed that to truly end the reign of a government the people must lose all faith in its ability to handle their money – could 2008 be that year? It really is the make or break question for the politics in 2008. If the Labour can hold out this year with managing the expectations of a bad economy without full blown recession, the Tories may just struggle to become the natural choice for the electorate. If Labour does lose our confidence though, it will be easy pickings for Cameron and Co. The next twelve months will decide who will win the next election I am sure with whoever standing on top by January 1st 2009 heading straight to Downing Street.