Monday, 21 April 2008

Gordon Brown in a spot of bother

It seems to be the way in politics: at times when you are being praised over decision making all the luck seems to be on your side, however when your performance is being questioned then lady luck deserts you. This is certainly the case with Gordon Brown. During his ten years as Chancellor people were lauding him, something I never totally bought into. Luck was certainly on his side with reasonable financial stability on the world scene and the Tories at sixes and sevens. And whatever the failings of the last Major government at least Labour inherited a sound economy which had been repaired following the ignominy of 'Black Wednesday'.

When Brown became prime minister last year he was confronted with various crises: terrorist attacks, foot and mouth, flooding, and he was widely praised for his calm statesmanlike response to them. I think that praise was overdone to be honest. For instance the terrorists, thank God, weren't able to wreak their intended carnage on the populace and this made Brown's reaction so much easier. Similarly the foot and mouth outbreak was far better contained than the 2001 event and for that we can largely thank the Chief Veterinary Officer and other officials. Brown actually looked good last summer without being very extended.

I pointed out after Mr Brown's last budget in 2007 the con regarding income tax changes and I also mentioned in that piece how the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson had been taken in by Brown as evidenced by Nick's blog entry at the time. Now of course Brown's luck is deserting him because the abolition of the 10p tax rate is coinciding with the problems of the so called "credit crunch". Led by Frank Field a substantial number of Labour MPs are expressing disquiet about the removal of the 10p tax rate. Alistair Darling yesterday tried to buy off some of the rebels by suggesting that he might try and do something for the poorest in society at an unspecified later date. Of course Darling is in a cleft stick here - the 10p problem is 100% of Gordon's making but he, Brown, cannot be shown to have made a mistake.

One thing that is causing some criticism at the moment is the selection of services and products that go into the basket to determine the inflation rate. With minimal disposal income for many it's the payment of mortgages and council tax, the cost of food, heat and light that matters. You can always do without the purchase of a CD player or a trip to Disneyland! For many people their personal inflation rate is far higher than official figures would suggest.

There are other matters on the near horizon to worry Labour. Two I would mention are the impending local elections on May 1st and the totally unnecessary change in the law extending detention from 28 days (which the Director of Public Prosecutions is happy with) to the arbitrary figure of 42 days. No wonder Labour MPs in marginals are getting so jittery!

Should the government lose the vote on the abolition of the 10p rate and get trounced in the elections then Brown's position will be almost untenable. He might have to ask for a vote of confidence. Very interesting times for followers of politics!

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