21 July 2009

Gordon is sent similar messages

There is no holding back Dominic Lawson, Steve Richards and Rachel Sylvester as they send Brown holiday greetings:

Dominic Lawson:

Thus it is that the ranks of Britain's senior public servants are as fed up and frustrated as they have ever been: Gordon Brown's inability as Prime Minister to take quick decisions, on even minor matters, caused the entire machinery of government to grind almost to halt from the day he moved into 10 Downing Street. The rapid departure from government of three of his four so called "Goats" – as in, laughably, government of all the talents – is itself a testament to the demoralisation of the administrative class.

Steve Richards:

I could go on, but let us fast forward to the latest Constitutional Reform bill published yesterday. This was a slightly silly event on lots of different levels as well as being worthy in some of its limited reformist objectives too. The main absurdity was the timing. Gordon Brown had hoped that constitutional reform would define the early phase of his leadership in the way that the independence of the Bank of England sealed his early reputation as a Chancellor who could be trusted. His first big Prime Ministerial statement two years ago put forward some of the proposals in yesterday's bill.

The long gap that followed tells us much about his chaotic premiership. After the non-election in the autumn of 2007 and the series of crises that followed, Brown became diverted. His antennae were still sharp enough to realise that the issue of 'trust' had suddenly become so overwhelming in ways he had not anticipated that it could not be addressed by a rag bag of constitutional changes. He lost interest.

He concludes:

Now, some ministers despair privately, is not the time for very much at all. Some suggest that if Labour can narrow the Tories' lead to 10 per cent by the autumn it would be much the best bet to call an election and end this period of paralysing despondency. New Labour was scared of change when it was thirty points ahead in the polls. No wonder under such gloomy circumstances a burst of complex, risky, energy-draining but necessary constitutional reform is kicked once more into the long grass.

Rachel Sylvester:

The Prime Minister’s decision to appoint the Beast of Brentwood as enterprise czar with a seat in the Lords has provoked a growing backlash in Whitehall. Many ministers are appalled by the arrival of a man most famous for shouting: “You’re fired.”

One Cabinet member summed up the appointment in a single word: “Yuk.” Another minister said that Mr Brown should be ashamed of himself for turning to the star of The Apprentice . “What does this say about Gordon’s values?” he muttered. Baroness Prosser, the deputy chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, told a recent meeting of Labour peers that her party should have nothing to do with a tycoon who has been accused of sex discrimination by a former employee, although he denies it. “Everything he promotes flies in the face of what Labour stands for,” she told me. “It’s all about bullying and sexism.” Civil servants and business people just find the appointment embarrassing.

At best, the appointment was a populist gimmick, designed to give a Prime Minister who struggles to communicate with the voters a bit of tabloid appeal. “Gordon’s obsessed with celebrities,” one senior civil servant says. At worst it reveals a willingness to put one day’s headlines before a life time's beliefs. Either way, it matters because it symbolises a deeper confusion in No 10 about constitutional reform.

Almost two years after promising a constitutional revolution, Mr Brown still cannot make up his mind about the House of Lords or electoral reform or lowering the voting age or fixed-term Parliaments or recall ballots for MPs. Even ministers are losing patience with him.

It was if they had all met at a summer drinks party to coordinate their attacks, using the publication yesterday of the Constitutional Reform bill as the catalyst to fire off their salvos.  But no, they are the independent views of leading commentators that know Brown’s premiership has been a disaster and is nearing the end.

Perhaps, Richards is right in that there maybe an autumn poll.  It is a point I have discussed before, and as he says it will only happen if the polls narrow.  There is little sign of that at present.

So, as we move into the not-so-silly season this year that will be dominated by swine flu, Afghanistan and a surge in youth unemployment, Labour MPs have to ask themselves one simple question.  Will changing Brown out for Alan Johnson make any difference or is it too late?

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