Thursday 27 September 2007

Gordon Brown - Virtually Secure?

Of all people, Norman Tebbitt thinks Gordon Brown is the inheritor of Thatcher (as Tebbitt plays games against David Cameron). Brown is doing what Blair did - taking in so many others that he crowds out the opposition. It is as if Cameron has nowhere to go and has run out of steam. His disaster was to appease the Tory right and it looked like a turnaround. The Liberal Democrats are losing supporters who had come to them in order to reject Tony Blair. Menzies Campbell cannot quite connect a vision (it may come). Meanwhile, over at Labour, ten years of Tony Blair as Prime Minister are gone in a puff of forgotten smoke: now a Labour man is back at the head of the party (but air to Margaret Thatcher!).

The claim Gordon Brown uses is that he is getting on with the job and tackling the issues and the crises. He is the strong man in charge, in control.

Here, surely, Cameron can find weaknesses a-plenty. Cameron has to get his party behind him, and the Tories could well melt into confusion, but he also needs to be electorally credible. If I was him, I'd go after Brown on substance.

Which privatisation and contract arrangements led to a government research station to be unaccountable to the extent that it let out live Foot and Mouth? The veterinary authorities announced the end of Foot and Mouth - and after a day it was back again from the same source. It sounds like a structural and mismanaged legacy of incompetence to me - a disaster of privatisation and lack of management.

In having a crisis at Northern Rock, we see an economic regime presiding over a mountain of private (and increasingly state) debt that has facilitated a credit economy, and, furthermore, when the Bank of England wanted to apply discipline to the financial market, the government panicked and agreed to add credit into the credit bubble that was popping (thus the same problem carries on) so to encourage banks to go after every crazy money-making scheme knowing that if they fail the state will bale them out. Loans will go on being split and sold trying to make crazy, risky money wherever they can - presumably sometimes in Chinese property deals and endemic corruption or in the phantom economy of British overblown retailing and services or the American low wage service sector as its large manufacturing implodes.

The floods were worsened by badly located building and rotten drains; they showed a lack of investment in key defences, the stretching of emergency services, a chaos of insurance and non-insurance and unequal treatment between tenants in the private sector, remaining public sector tenants and house owners. Many have been left in comparative poverty, and with a loss of property values (before a crash in general property values finally takes place, once the bubble is gone). This was not Gordon Brown's finest hour; certainly he has nothing to crow about.

It is not general competence either. We are being spun. He came back from a holiday and he worked long hours. This is not the same as being effective.

Gordon Brown has surrounded himself with next generation or misplaced ministers, so it looks like a one man government. Alistair Darling, David Milliband and Ed Balls look somewhat shaky in what they are doing. Alistair Darling looks incompetent, David Milliband is unsure (he follows Margaret Beckett, who was clueless) and Ed Balls is in the wrong job.

Meanwhile public service pay is an ongoing issue, with even the possibility of some sort of pay policy. Has the government learnt anything? Perhaps it has - it continues to privatise council services and workers are ending up in private, competitive services.

When Gordon Brown did a choreographed walk to the assembly hall, I switched off. This was behind a security cordon and it was just theatrics. People are obviously having difficulty seeing through all this. He is having a honeymoon period. I am not fooled by presentation. He is doing nothing but treading water. He says British so often we remember that he is Scottish and there is a European Constitutional Treaty to dodge around.

If he went for a snap election the arguments could be made against him. They weren't because the pre-conference season has been the off-season for politics. So it was a free run of crises. Well now it is up to opposition leaders to pick away at his level of competence.

These days governments are overseers. They are not even managers. There is little else involved. Undermine competence and politics starts to move.

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