Peter Hoskin

Authority? What authority?

Authority? What authority?
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Brown's dwindling authority has become the issue du jour.  Despite what Downing Street is saying, the matter isn't even up for question.  After the bizarre YouTube expenses fiasco, and the defeat over Gurkha settlement rights, Brown has pretty much lost any meaningful control over his party.  And, as if to ram the point home, there's a series of remarkable quotes from "two senior Cabinet ministers" in today's Telegraph.  One raises the spectre of the Major government:

“We can still turn this round, but Gordon is not listening. He is lashing out and reacting to headlines. It’s all so reminiscent of the last months of John Major.

If we don’t get our act together — and that means Gordon needs some better advice — we could go down to a defeat every bit as big as, if not bigger than, the Tories in 1997.” And the other laments:    

“...we are giving the impression that we have lost control of our own side. We have to get a grip, give him better advice, otherwise there will be more talk of leadership challenges, which is the last thing we want.”

The problem for Brown is that this kind of story is self-reinforcing.  The Today Programme's interview with David Blunkett - who offers his, ahem, "advice" for Brown in the Guardian today - was dominated by talk of the PM's authority.  And it's difficult to imagine that there won't be renewed round of leadership speculation in the near future.

One corollary of all this is that spotlight shines ever more brightly on the Tories.  This has its benefits, as an attentive media will help the Cameroons get their message across.  But that same media will also ask more questions of what is increasingly being regarded as the next government.  We're already seeing this in the aftermath to the Budget.  The Times have followed up their unflattering article on the number of female Tory MPs with an analysis of the party's funding streams.  And today's FT runs a story on the defence industry's concerns with Cameron & Co.  To some extent, the Tories should welcome this greater scrutiny.  It's all good practice for government.