What a ten weeks it has been for Gordon Brown. He appears to be master of all he surveys. He reckons he has proved he can do the job. He’s supposedly split with the Blair legacy in a number of important ways. He’s reputedly signalled an intention to withdraw from Iraq. He’s intimated that the relationship with the USA will not be all that it once was. And most important of all, he’s poised to win an election.
Well, he is if you’re the sort of Labour supporter for who political complacency has become the norm. I detect that most people on the left feel that the next election is in the bag for Labour, and all that Gordon Brown needs to do is visit the Palace and another eight years of Labour paradise awaits. Not so fast.
It may have taken some time, but we Conservatives have finally woken up to one important fact. We now realise that far from being interested in embracing a “New Politics” Gordon Brown is now using the “Old Politics” to further his sole aim. The German’s have a word for it, which is much more onomatopoeic than its English equivalent. The German word is “Vernichtung” – pronounced “fairnishtoong. It means annihilation. We now know that your beloved PM is intent on our destruction. Now we know what the strategy is, we need to work out the best way of fighting back and moving the debate back on to our agenda.
Even left of centre commentators like Andrew Rawnsley are calling Brown a Stalinist for the way he seems intent on turning Britain into a one party state with himself crowned as the Dear Leader.
Good military strategists don’t give the game away as cheaply as Gordon Brown though. The week it dawned on the Tories that he was hell bent on destroying them was when he managed to lure the three unwise monkeys of John Bercow, Patrick Mercer and Johann Eliasch into his so-called big tent. I’ve yet to meet a Tory who isn’t incandescent at what these three did. It is incredible that three intelligent individuals couldn’t see beyond their egos and understand the political game which was being played out. Brown couldn’t believe his luck. In a single stroke he came back from his short holiday and recaptured the political headlines, after a week of pro-Cameron headlines in most of the press.
It was, though, a pyrrhic victory, for it revealed to Cameron and the political commentariat that he would stoop at nothing to gain a short term party political advantage. If he had gone for three experts in their fields who didn’t have disruptive “form”, then he could have got away with it. But Bercow has been an unhappy soul at not having his talents recognised, Mercer has been simmering with resentment since his sacking and Eliasch has been unhappy at some policy pronouncements. But you have to give Brown his due. He pounced just at the right time. And he no doubt couldn’t believe his luck when later the same day Michael Ancram helpfully slung in his twopennyworth too.
I have always thought that Gordon Brown’s best chance of winning an election was to call it as soon as possible. Why? Because, in my opinion – and to misquote the famous Labour anthem – things can only get worse. Every politician’s honeymoon only lasts so long, and for Brown’s to have lasted ten weeks means that he needs to cash in while the going is still good. Most of what Conservative Campaign HQ has done in the last few weeks has been an attempt to deflect him from doing just that. So far he has fallen for that. If, by the time you read this, he has called an election, just pretend that the last paragraph isn’t there.
Most economists believe interest rates are going to rise at least twice over the next six months. So far people haven’t complained too much about the last two rises, but with an average mortgage at least £100 a month more expensive than it was a year ago, prepare for people to revolt if that figure doubles. They also see council tax rising many times the rate of inflation and wonder what they are getting for their services.
The tax argument is one that is coming and the Conservatives had better be ready to put the case for lower taxes. It ought to mean picking off Labour voters like ripe plumbs. The trouble is, the Conservative leadership is scared stiff of being accused of promoting tax cuts in order to cut public spending, hence George Osborne’s promise to keep Labour’s spending plans for three years. A bit of boldness is called for here. Anyone with half an economic brain can make the case that lower taxes means a higher tax take and therefore more money to invest in public services. Just look at Ireland’s performance, if you have doubts about my economic competence.
Having a debate on tax takes the argument to Brown just where he’s at his weakest. Brown is a conventional Labour tax and spend politician. His record on stealth taxes is the one which is easiest for the Conservatives to hit out at. It is perhaps one of the few Conservative successes that the phrase “stealth tax” is now fixed in our lexicon.
So my message is this. If Fabian Review readers believe the election is already in the bag, then you’re very welcome to continue in your state of complacency. David Cameron has proved his resilience in recent weeks. Each time he is knocked back by Brown he has come back fighting. He now knows what Brown is about and he needs to lose no time in developing his fightback strategy. Yes, Punch & Judy have to go. But in their place expect to see a knockout bout more akin to a boxing match. Clear blue water is at last starting to emerge between a control freak short termist headline grabbing Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition who is playing the long game.