Peter Hoskin

Death by mail

Death by mail
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Oh, how difficult life is for a Prime Minister who's lost pretty much all his political capital.  Almost every major Commons vote becomes a potential landmine, threatening to blow a premiership apart.  And so it is with the Government's plans for Royal Mail.  As today's Times reports:

"David Cameron holds Gordon Brown’s political life in his hands after the Prime Minister’s decision to risk a Commons defeat over the Royal Mail sell-off next month, senior government figures believe.

Downing Street insisted last night that Mr Brown was determined to press ahead, despite weekend reports that he was preparing to shelve reforms championed by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary.

His decision sets him at odds with his long-term ally Nick Brown, the Chief Whip, who has warned the Prime Minister that he has little or no chance of getting the measure through without Tory support."

The trouble for Brown here is that all the options look bad for him.  If he pushes on with the plans, then he almost certainly has to rely on Tory support, and will incur the wrath of his backbenches.  But if he backs down now, then he'll not only look weak, but he'll also infuriate the modernisers, including one Peter Mandelson.  As I suggested earlier, Brown could well do without a knife-wielding Mandy stalking the corridors of Number 10.

If I were the Tories I'd hold tight, and stick to more or less backing the Government over their current plans for Royal Mail.  Unless the Cameroons can come up with a genuine reason to withdraw their support - and they've shown no sign of that so far - then they can maintain the moral high ground, whilst watching a internal Labour rebellion wreak some significant - if not fatal - damage on Brown.  Besides, it's in the Tories' interest to have the incumbent Prime Minister remain until election time.