James Forsyth

Brown fails to seize the agenda

Brown fails to seize the agenda
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The reaction of three of the most influential commentators on the left to the Queen’s speech is instructive. Michael White in The Guardian suggests that it was less important than people think as Gordon Brown will probably go until 2010 before calling an election meaning that there will be time for one more full legislative programme before the government goes to the country. 

Jonathan Freedland is far from enthused by the speech but argues that there could be merit in aiming to do a few things on a certain theme and then getting them done. But as Freedland acknowledges if government is purely managerial it leaves itself uniquely exposed to events.

The most bullish of the three isSteve Richards. But revealingly his optimism is based not on what Brown proposed but on where Cameron has positioned himself. Richard writes that

“[Cameron’s] success during the conference season gave him unexpected political space. He has made use of it by highlighting immigration, the need for only English MPs to vote on English laws and his support for a referendum on the EU Treaty." 

He then goes onto say that Brown’s political antennae are twitching,

“Having followed weakly the Cameron/Osborne policy [on inheritance tax], he seeks to turn it to his advantage and I would not write him off from doing so. The slogan "A billion pounds on schools or millionaires?" invites only one answer.”

What this analysis misses is how Cameron has changed the political weather. When he speaks on immigration, English votes for English laws or Europe most of the electorate don’t see Enoch Powell in an open neck shirt and so attacks on those lines are bound to fail. While on inheritance tax, the Tories are—in a phenomenally clever piece of politics—paying for a tax cut on the moderately rich with a tax on the very rich.

The other crucial change is that after a decade--or more accurately, eight years--of Labour spending increases that have failed to deliver the improvements they were supposed to, Labour investment versus Tory cuts is unlikely to be as sure fire a vote winner as Richards thinks. The political weather is still unsettled but Brown missed the opportunity to be the weather-maker yesterday. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

Topics in this articlePolitics