Monday, July 02, 2007

Bounce, Blip, Bingo!

So, Brown takes over, and polls record a strong swing to the Labour Party. Tribal political journalists are delighted. This, strangely, is true on both sides of the spectrum, Jackie Ashley's paean of praise in the Guardian is not markedly more enthusiastic than Janet Daley in the Telegraph. So, how good has Brown been, how important are the polling numbers, and what does the coming year have in store?
First things first, there is little doubt that the bulk of Brown's political strategy has been based on trying to stuff the Tories. From the defection of Quentin Davies, to Brown's continual harping on Britishness, to the re-emergence of the 90 days detention spectre, the bulk of Brown's energy has been spent on trying to destabilise Cameron, and encourage division within Conservatvie ranks. Much of Cameron's popularity within the party is based on the belief that he is a winner; that he has turned around the perception of the party. With polls turning against him, can Cameron retain the support of the right of the party?
The most remarkable thing about the Brown takeover has been the extraordinarily uncritical coverage. The readiness of the press to believe that the arrival of Brown has heralded a new era of open, de-centralised politics is beyond belief. Brown was the most centralising Chancellor in memory, his unwillingness even to hear unwelcome advice was legendary, his reliance on a tight circle of intimates proverbial. What on earth does the press think has changed? Their capacity to trust the rhetoric of five days rather than the evidence of fifteen years is extraordinary. Surely, however, it cannot last. The media is not noted for its retention of haloes, certainly not on a figure as well known as Brown. The intensity of the media honeymoon will definitely wane, though when is uncertain.
One thing that hasn't received much comment is the technically flawed nature of the reshuffle. Ministers report to more than one Secretary of State; The Departments of Skills and Education come under different briefs; it's uncertain exactly who will attend cabinet: this was not a well organised reshiffle, even if it was a well presented one. Brown's capacity to delegate and to work well with others has not been perceived as a strong point - expect it to be a talking point as his Government ages.
Brown is also a man with a short temper. This is in some ways admirable - it is a reflection that he does actually care about politics - but it is also dangerous. If Cameron manages to get under his skin in the same way that Osborne did, expect PMQs to rebound to Brown's detriment. Regardless of who 'wins' the exchanges, the impact of a hectoring, bullying Prime Minister will not come across well.
So what next for us all? More Tory-baiting for sure, possibly another defection though this is not the certainty that it was presented as by Ed Balls (was Shirley Williams really the 'huge news' that was promised for Thursday? At least the days of spin are over eh?), possibly attempts to move in on Conservative territory - certainly expect to hear the word 'British' more times in the next few days than for the last few months put together. An election?
Well, that's the noise circulating at the moment: some even think an autumn election is a possibility. At the risk of eating these words later, I would be astonished if there was an election this year (or next probably). The Labour Party was essentially functionally bankrupt earlier this year. Though a few Brown supporters (notably Sir Ronnie Cohen) have donated a couple of million quid, that is nothing like enough. No elections until the Labour Party can afford them. Dougie Alexander's appointment as electoral organiser has caused excitement as he is apparently a master tactician (why? He was, after all, in charge of losing Scotland for the first time in half a century - is he a Bob Shrum style expert in defeat?), but this is all balls.
As coverage becomes less wall-to-wall Brown, expect the Tories to recover their position in the polls. Cameron does better the more coverage he receives (whether positive or negative doesn't appear to matter). This is really not the moment to panic - Brown is currently impregnable, but this is temporary, the political equivalent of the 'not out first ball' rule. Steady the Buffs.

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