Boris victory would spook Labour MPs

WITH MPs about to leave Westminster for their two-week Easter break, the Prime Minister is facing up to the prospect of electoral humiliation suffered by John Major in the dark years following the 1992 General Election.

Graham Dines

WITH MPs about to leave Westminster for their two-week Easter break, the Prime Minister is facing up to the prospect of electoral humiliation suffered by John Major in the dark years following the 1992 General Election.

Gordon Brown could - and almost certainly would- have won a famous landslide victory if he had gone to the polls last October.

But his dithering and confusion has seen Labour's lead not only evaporate but makes the Conservatives favourites to become the largest party in the Commons and perhaps storm to an overall victory.

Brown's top adviser Spencer Livermore - once dubbed the most imfluential gay in Britain - has left his post as No 10's director of political strategy in protest at the Prime Minister's bottling of an election which Livermore had spent every waking hour in the summer working on only to be ignored when Brown got cold feet because of the Tories' daring over inheritance tax.

It seems certain that the next election will be in 2010. The Tories under David Cameron have amassed a 12% to 15% lead in popularity, as Labour implodes.

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The fury over the refusal to grant a referendum for the Treaty of Lisbon and the cock-up over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, in which Gordon Brown was forced into a partial retreat after an onslaught from the Roman Catholic Church, give the impression of a directionless Government teetering at the push of the self-destruct button.

But the biggest blow to Gordon Brown would be the defeat of Ken Livingstone in May 1's London mayoral contest. While the Prime Minister and the Mayor are anything but allies, the Prime Minister has to stake all on Livingstone's re-election to City Hall as opinion polls suggest that bumbling Tory Boris Johnson is the soar-away leader.

Labour is so worried about a reverse in London that it has drafted in former Culture Secretary and nanny-in-chief Tessa Jowell to take the Livingstone candidacy by the scruff of the neck.

Ms Jowell with her public school accent and mannerisms is seen as the ideal person to reconnect Londoners with Labour. But it may be too late - Johnson and the Tories have calculated that the way to win London is to go full-tilt for the voters of the capital's outer boroughs, who are mostly white and affluent.

Dangling the spectre of a further four years of what they portray as Livingstone's attack on the middle classes may be enough to tip the balance in Johnson's direction.

A Johnson victory, coupled with the Tories taking control of the Greater London Assembly, would put the Conservatives in control of the capital in the build up to the 2012 Olympic Games.

The bleak outlook for Labour was highlighted by a “helpful” intervention from Norwich South MP and former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who over the East weekend - traditionally a time when the media look for such Manna from Heaven because little news happens - issued a “doomsday” list of Labour MPs at risk if fewer than 7,500 voters desert Labour for the Tories.

Labour would lose its majority on a swing of only 2%, well in the Tory radar. Mr Clark calculates that 24 Labour seats mostly in London, south Essex and north Kent, could fall if the Tories advance - including Angela Smith who has a frail looking hold on Basildon South and Thurrock East.

Boundary changes work in the Tories' favour in London and southern England. The last boundary review in 1997 was so helpful to Labour that seats they had never won before - notably Harwich, Enfield Southgate and Dorest South - were swept up in the Blair landslide.

Labour MPs can only reflect that if it's grim now after ministerial haplessness and bungling and a turgid Budget, it can only get worse as bread, eggs, butter, vegetables, petrol, and heating prices rocket out of seeming control.

The Prime Minister may think that inflation is running at just 2% as he stamps down on public sector pay, but he's simply kidding himself.

It's said that MPs are even hinting that the only way to save Labour's majority is to implement the so-called “Anthony Eden solution” - Sir Anthony resigned after the Suez debacle a broken and demoralised man blaming ill-health for his fall from grace.

LIN Homer honed her redoubtable reputation firstly as chief executive of Suffolk county council and then Birmingham city council, before heading off for the poisoned chalice of taking charge of the border and immigration service.

In just published testimony to the House of Commons all-party Home Affairs Committee on progress with deporting foreign nationals convicted of offences in the UK, she told MPs: “I am quite a hard task-master.” No shrinking violet she.

It was her second appearance before the Committee and in one of the longest sentences ever delivered to Parliament, Mrs Homer opined: “If you look at foreign national prisoners, we have both heard the message that we should concentrate on criminality and we have considered the numbers of people that we are removing, but I think, importantly, alongside that (and, again, that very early conversation with this Committee was very informative), we have been looking at and improving our procedures, and I think we have gone a long way to putting many of those in place, but, for instance, it will be another two years, at least, before we have a fully integrated case-working system that technologically supports our caseworkers to the level that I think they need.”

Quite.

THERE'S something rather smug about a poacher turned gamekeeper. Castle Point MP Bob Spink, who has recently resigned the Conservative whip in a tiff about constituency officers trying to deselect him, went full throttle for Essex county council during Prime Minister's Questions.

He sought Gordon Brown's support for a new road link to Canvey Island. “Will he join me in pressing Essex county council, which is Conservative controlled, to make that its top priority? If it does, we will get the access road that we need. If it does not, the people will know who to blame.”

Mr Brown replied: “It is the responsibility of Essex county council to bring forward a scheme that provides value for money and meets environmental objectives. I know that Essex county council is neither of the hon. Gentleman's party nor of ours, but I hope that it will listen to his representations.”

Ouch.

POLITICIANS are regarded as a lower form of pond life than even journalists and prostitutes. And they don't help their cause by appearing slippery, arrogant and above the law.

We the taxpayers are to fund an appeal to the High Court against the Information Commissioner's ruling that MPs' second home expenses should be made public. If Speaker Michael Martin loses, is it too much to hope that MPs be surcharged to cover the cost of a “vexatious” appeal?

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