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Gordon Brown is politically on the slide

Brown wanted so badly to be British Prime Minister. Moving from the office of Chancellor to that of Prime Minister was never going to be a smooth transition. Brown faced one problem after another. Labour has now lost a by-election and the Conservatives are actively rejoicing. What has happened to Gordon Brown? What are his chances of making a political recovery?

Gordon Brown has made a series of political misjudgments and his government has also experienced ‘bad luck’. His initial days in the Premiership were ruffled by serious flooding and a potential foot and mouth outbreak. He chose not to fight, unwisely in hindsight, an autumn election that would have tested his legitimacy at the ballot box. His government was then faced with the scandal of the loss of confidentially information on millions of citizens. His performance during Prime Minister’s question time has not been exactly sparkling, especially when he earned the accolade, as a result of the loss of confidential information, of having gone from ‘Stalin to Mr. Bean’ in a matter of days. Style matters as well as substance, especially the performance in the most brutal parliamentary cross-fire in any democratic system, that of Prime Minister’s Question Time. Then there was the mistake in taxation policy of cutting the basic rate but abolishing the lower 10% rate, made when he was Chancellor, but which has come back to haunt him as an unfair ‘confidence trick’. Underneath it all is still the lingering resentment about the war in Iraq. The by-election loss of a fairly solid Labour seat to the Conservatives this week has added to the evidence of his unpopularity and that of his Government. This was the first Tory by-election gain in over two decades, a gain that Tory-leader David Cameron is calling a ‘remarkable victory’ whilst condemning the Labour campaign as ‘negative’ and ‘backward looking’ as well as ‘xenophobic’. Cameron claims that the victory is a victory for those who are against ‘tax and spend’, the traditional policy of old Labour.

Reactions to the by-election defeat within the Labour Party have been swift. The party did run a negative campaign against the ‘Tory toff’, the epithet used by Labour to describe Edward Timpson the victorious candidate. The Labour MP David Lamey is quoted on the BBC web-site as saying that ‘the ‘Tory toff’ campaign picked the wrong target. The public do feel that politicians are out of touch- but it is the political class, not the upper class, that is the problem’. Many think that it is Gordon Brown and his policies that are the problem. The feeling that Labour MPs are ‘fighting for our political lives’ is echoed by another Labour MP John Grogan (again quoted on the BBC web site). A danger for Labour is that the party will now start to squabble about Brown’s leadership and so add to its own troubles.

Brown cannot re-launch himself. That has been tried and failed. The Labour Party does not tend to go in for brutal removal of its leaders (that is more a Tory practice). It is stuck with Brown. Brown’s reputation was that of a good Chancellor, capable of maintaining economic growth. Brown sees that economic uncertainty is what is underlying his unpopularity (‘They’re concerned about what’s happening to the economy’) and it is alleviating the economic uncertainty that Brown will address himself. Although Brown has strengths in this area, he has only limited room to maneuver. If he cuts taxation, he will need also to cut Government expenditure. With the price of oil what it is and the general world uncertainty, the economy will not readily responding to traditional ‘steering’ methods. He is between a rock and a hard place.