15 September 2009

Whether Brown uses the word “cuts” today misses the point


Our Dear Leader talking with Robert Peston:

I've never been someone who myself has been interested in running up personal debts or borrowing huge amounts of money.

Not wanting to take any responsibility for awful state of the nation’s finances we move on:

I think you'll end up with a situation where the debt levels in all major countries are roughly the same - Germany, France, America and Britain - and I think you'll get an agreement amongst all these countries about the right timing for us to take the further action that is, that is necessary...

As Peston says:

So there you have it: the prime minister doesn't like borrowing personally, but understands why others do; he'll wait for Germany, France and the US to cut their deficits before taking further steps to reduce the British national debt; and reforming the banking system is seriously unfinished business.

Having given an interview to one of his unofficial spokesman, Brown leaks to the other, Nick Robinson, that spending cuts will be needed.  Whether he uses the word “cuts” and in what context remains to be seen, although Robinson suggests that he will:

Mr Brown will use the word "cuts" when he addresses the TUC congress.

So, some 24 hours after Mandy avoided using the word “cuts”, Brown does a U-turn as he tries one again to save himself and the world.

Robinson also reports that a Cabinet minister has said:

….that the speech would amount to a clearing of the decks and enable Mr Brown to take the fight to the Conservatives, who have been accusing him of evading reality about the state of public finances.

On one level that is right.  However, it really does miss the point.  These few weeks were meant to be a time when Brown would launch his autumn strategy, light up the sky with initiatives accompanied by a few Exocet missiles aimed at the Tories.

The reality is different, as a government aide tells Rachel Sylvester:

It’s like the sorry saga over the word sorry after the MPs’ expenses scandal.  Gordon now has to lead.

That is not all.  Martin Kettle makes the point about Brown’s lack of authority and wonders if he is actually signed up to Labour’s rethink.  Then he says the obvious:

Mandelson really is Labour's de facto leader now.

Then the more substantial point:

Perhaps Mandelson can reach some of the Middle Britain voters who have stopped listening to Brown. Yet it will take more, much more, than a single speech to reconnect with the electorate. The government can say what it likes. But who is listening?

The polls remain awful for Brown, we had the fiasco over Lockerbie bomber and now all he may do today is play catch with what Cameron has been saying for months.  It is hardly agenda setting stuff.  Moreover, the Tories will have seen all this coming and no doubt will have plans, yet to be revealed, on how they will further derail Labour’s clattering train.

Time is fast running out for James Gordon Brown as these few critical weeks tick by.

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