Martin Bright

John Rentoul Calls it Right on Brown and Cameron

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As he says himself in this week's column in the Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul showed "slavish admiration for a former Prime Minister". Such is his grief for Tony Blair that he can't bear to utter his name. 

I did wonder whether John would seamlessly shift his admiration from Blair to Cameron, but he has remained loyal to his former idol's New Labour project. Even when I disagree with him (and possibly especially when I disagree with him) John Rentoul remains one of the most incisive political columnists writing today, even though he has lost his access to the highest levels of power. 

At risk of falling into slavish admiration myself, I have to say John's column today is spot on about the post-conference political scene. The Conservative conference in Manchester demonstrated that the Tory Party is far from an unbeatable force. Indeed, even a half-decent Labour Party would give them a serious run for their money. John is right to say: "The really important polls last week were those showing Labour doing better against the Conservatives than Brown does against Cameron".  But he is understating the situation. The Tories' internal polling shows that "Cameron v Brown" is no contest, but "Labour values v Conservative values" has the parties running very close indeed. Perhaps that is why the Tories have been gunning so hard for David Miliband rather than concentrating on the man at the top. It is tempting to say that the low-key Conservative conference was part of a cynical attempt to keep Gordon Brown in the top job.

Both parties now know that British politics could be turned on its head if Labour persuaded Gordon Brown to step down. James Forsyth showed the class that will make him a great political editor when he said that his first instinct on hearing about the Prime Minister's continuing eye problems was what to wonder at what a remarkable politician he is to have overcome such a handicap. I would go further and say that Gordon Brown could yet be recognised as a truly great Prime Minister if he stood down as leader for the good of his party.