Countdown under way for PM's last chance

AS Gordon Brown reels from disasters of his own making, he must wonder how it came about that he leads a government as lacklustre as that of the unlamented John Major.

Graham Dines

AS Gordon Brown reels from disasters of his own making, he must wonder how it came about that he leads a government as lacklustre as that of the unlamented John Major.

The sad truth for the Prime Minister is that it was he who appointed his Cabinet. He had an unopposed mandate from the Labour Party to start afresh, but he mostly surrounded himself with the same faces who had served Tony Blair and they have failed him.

If a week that saw a disastrous appearance on YouTube, a retreat on MPs' second home allowances, and defeat over the brave Gurkhas was not bad enough, he could have done without the disloyalty of Communities Secretary Hazel Blears or the facial antics of former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.


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And he allowed himself to be outwitted by actress Joanna Lumley, who heaped praise on him after they met to discuss the Gurkhas. “I feel absolutely confident he is going to do the right thing for the Gurkhas,” she trilled - if the Prime Minister doesn't deliver what Lumley wants, just imagine the outcry.

As Brown set out on Tuesday to make another fresh start, it was - surprise, surprise - the Home Office under Jacqui Smith thatb planted its size 12s across the road to recovery.

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This week the Home Office has made controversial announcements about a national DNA database, released a list of 16 undesirables not allowed into the UK, and has given residents of Manchester the dubious honour of being the first in the UK allowed to sign up to voluntary ID cards.

The triple whammy effectively knocked the Prime Minister out of the headlines and brought scorn from abroad on the hapless Smith.

Michael Savage, who hosts California's far-right talk show The Savage Nation was described by Smith

as “someone who has fallen into the category of fomenting hatred, of such extreme views and expressing them in such a way that it is actually likely to cause inter-community tension or even violence if that person were allowed into the country.”

Savage, real name Michael Weiner, insists he has never advocated violence. “For this lunatic Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary of England, to link me up with skinheads who are killing people in Russia, to put me in (the same) league with mass murderers who kill Jews on buses is defamation.

“I am going to sue (Smith).'

Among others named and shamed are American Baptist pastor Fred Waldron Phelps senior and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, who have picketed the funerals of Aids victims and claimed the deaths of US soldiers are a punishment for US tolerance of homosexuality, Hamas MP Yunis Al-Astal, Jewish extremist Mike Guzovsky, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Stephen Donald Black and neo-Nazi Erich Gliebe.

Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, the former leaders of a violent Russian skinhead gang which committed 20 racially motivated murders, are also banned from coming to Britain. Both are currently in prison.

Presumably some bright spark in the Home Office thought he was helping the Prime Minister's waning popularity by suggesting to Smith that this list be published because most voters back the Government on keeping undesirables out.

Quite rightly, the first duty of any government is to protect its own citizens. I have no objection to banning religious intolerants and racists from our shores, it was just a strange time to publish the list.

The same thinking must have paved the way for the decision to announce that Manchester is to pilot ID cards. The majority of those polled in opinion surveys back ID cards, so naturally let's help the PM's recovery by announcing a popular policy.

Yes, but check the Prime Minister's diary first! Whatever happened to the famous wall chart which was established to ensure policy announcements never clashed?

The last two weeks are proof positive that Brown leads a Government which doesn't set the imagination on fire. There are loyalists - Douglas Alexander and husband-and-wife team Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper will all die in the bunker with him - and he can rely on Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett, Alistair Darling and the increasingly impressive Hilary Benn.

Alan Johnson and Geoff Hoon will not rock the boat in public. But apart from Harriet Harman, Lord Mandelson and possibly David Miliband, the others in the Cabinet are hardly household names, which is why Brown tried to appoint a government of all the talents when he became PM.

The Cabinet reshuffle which will surely follow next month's local and European election results will be the last throw of the dice for Brown. There will be no more opportunities to get it right. It's the Brown equivalent of Harold Macmillan's night of the long knives - an unfortunate precedent, because Super Mac still went down.

Get it wrong and the game's certainly up for Brown. Labour will crash with him. Get it right, and a new, energetic team could, at worst, mitigate the scale of defeat and at best help the Prime Minister pull off a shock as devastating as Harry S Truman in the 1948 US presidential election victory.

One thing seems certain, or as certain as any authorised briefing which emerges in whispers from Downing Street. The accident-prone Jacqui Smith will be removed from the Cabinet and probably the government, allowing her to concentrate on trying to save her marginal seat in Worcestershire.

EXIT DRAPER IN SHAME

LABOUR activist Derek Draper - known to friend and foe as either Dolly or Mr Kate Garraway - quit as editor of the LabourList website yesterday in the wake of the scandal over the proposed No 10 smear campaign.

Draper was sent the notorious email by then Downing Street aide Damian McBride, outlining plans to spread scurrilous gossip about senior Tories on a new website to be called Red Rag.

He initially praised the proposals as “absolutely totally brilliant.”

In a resignation statement, Draper acknowledged that his continued presence at LabourList - which was originally set up to discuss serious policy ideas - was detracting from the website.

“I regret ever receiving the infamous email and I regret my stupid, hasty reply. I should have said straight away that the idea was wrong,”' he said.

“I do ask people to remember that its contents were never published by me, or anyone else, involved in the Labour Party and they would never have seen the light of day were it not for someone hacking into my emails and placing them into the public domain.

“Because of that, a silly idea ultimately destined for the trash can became a national scandal.”

LabourList was set up as a direct response to the successful ConservativeHome web site for Tory activists and also Guido Fawkes's irreverent blogging on order-order.com. Not only is LabourList a poor imitation of ConservativeHome, is it is also way behind the various blogs put out by UKIP supporters.

I don't buy that excuse that the emails would have remained private but for someone hacking into Draper's emails. How do we know the contents were “ultimately destined for the trash can”?

McBride and Draper may regret that the contents of the emails became public, but if they had not entertained the idea, there would have been no scandal in the first place.

Is this the end of the sorry business? No, because Conservative MP Nadine Dorries says she was libelled in the exchange of emails and is taking legal action. It is still not known if author Frances Osborne, wife of George, will resort to the courts over the allegations made about her.

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