James Forsyth

Brown’s challenge in 2008

Brown's challenge in 2008
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Jonathan Freedland has a typically smart piece on what Gordon Brown needs to do in 2008 in this morning’s Guardian. Freedland writes,

“We will not vote on him this year, but after only six months in office - three that saw him soar, three that saw him plunge - we will form a settled view of him in 2008. If the Mr Bean tag sticks, he will be finished. He needs, at the very minimum, a few solid months of steady, unruffled, even dull competence: no more Northern Rocks, missing discs or tangled donations. Desperately required is a spell of quiet, so that the serial misfortunes of the autumn come to seem like a bad patch rather than a Brownian pattern. 

For this, though, the prime minister needs to do more than cross his fingers. He has to make a new year's resolution: to submit again to the regime he followed last summer. In those golden three months, Brown simply took an axe to his negatives. Think I'm a tribal control-freak who can only do economics? Then watch as I reach out beyond Labour, give my ministers a free rein and handle floods, fire and plague. It all worked so well, he should do it again. 

This time his negatives are different and more grave. Now he is branded incompetent, a coward and a bunkered weirdo who might even be cracking under the strain - and he needs to set about smashing those negatives with the same discipline he showed six months ago.” As Freedland notes, competence—or the lack thereof—will be the hardest of these factors to turn around for Brown as it is the one that he is in the least control. Freedland then suggests some clever ways in which Brown could reverse the other negatives. But doing so will now be far more difficult for Brown than it was when he became PM and enjoyed the benefit of the doubt from both the public and the media. If he now tries to present himself as a collegial figure, say, the people and the press won’t conclude that finally getting the top job has changed Gordon but will instead see it as a cynical piece of spin or a sign of desperation.

Written byJames Forsyth

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

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