One year on, and Brown is struggling

THERE was something of an air of desperation about Gordon Brown's away day in Saudi Arabia at the weekend. He's being skewered from all sides because of the rising tide of fuel, heating and food prices and no matter what he says about it being beyond the control of his Government, he is being punished by the voters.

Graham Dines

THERE was something of an air of desperation about Gordon Brown's away day in Saudi Arabia at the weekend. He's being skewered from all sides because of the rising tide of fuel, heating and food prices and no matter what he says about it being beyond the control of his Government, he is being punished by the voters.

That's why he generated so many harmful CO2 emissions in going to Saudi - he had to send the message that I, Gordon Brown, understand and share you and your families' pain being inflicted on you as you fuel the car and scramble about at the supermarket searching for buy-one-get-one-free offers.

The latest opinion polls make grim reading for the Prime Minister, his Cabinet, and those MPs sitting on majorities of less than 12,000. In one poll, the Conservatives have reached the giddy heights of 49% for the first time since the 1955 General Election.

How different it was exactly one year ago today. The prize which he has coveted for 15 years was finally his - he kissed hands on being appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Gone were the superficial socialists who had been attracted to Tony Blair like moths around a low energy light bulb. Gone was the man who stood in awe of President Bush, who owned a property portfolio way beyond the means of the vast majority of voters, and whose glamorous holidays were more the style of playboy footballers than of a Prime Minister.

Most Read

As soon as Blair was out the door and taking on the Palestinian problem, Labour enjoyed an opinion poll bounce. The Government's popularity increased as Brown showed an adept hand in dealing with floods, foot-and-mouth disease and the terror attacks on London and Glasgow.

The Conservatives watched in despair as Labour rose in the polls with the message: hold a general election now and see off the Tories for ever.

Brown faltered. He dithered. He bottled it - having worked up to hysteria his party in general and Labour's annual conference in particular, no election was called during that fateful week in Bournemouth.

Brown left the seaside to mull over election plans. But he hadn't reckoned with the master stroke that the Tories were to pull at their conference the following week.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne was given the green light to announce that a Conservative government would abolish inheritance tax on all estates under £1million.

The Tories applauded it, the leader writers in Fleet Street loved it, and Labour miscalculated the impact the policy would have. With property inflation pushing even the less well off over the £250,000 threshold for inheritance tax, Labour attacked Cameron for only looking after rich toffs.

The opinion polls taken immediately after Osborne's speech showed just how wrong Brown and his advisers were to react the way they did. The Conservative had taken the initiative, voters backed them into a poll lead, and Brown panicked and announced there would be no election.

In the interim, the Prime Minister flew to Iraq to try to upstage Cameron's conference speech by announcing troop reductions in the Middle East - openly breaking his promise only to make major policy announcements in the Commons first. The savage tongue lashing he received from Sir John Major over this escapade found many supporters from left-leaning newspapers.

Fall guy Alastair Darling, who nominally is in charge of policy at the Treasury even though most people recognise that Brown holds the whip hand, was forced to announce an immediate rise in inheritance tax threshold of £600,000.

But it didn't work. Everyone except the most hardened Labour commentators could see through the ploy. Brown was in retreat, and in eight months has gone from a dead cert winner to an odds-on loser.

They say you make your own luck. But Brown, often a victim of circumstances, has seen what should have been a long tenure in Downing Street turn into temporary accommodation.

The loss of millions of voters' private details when a computer disk went AWOL seemed to be proof that Labour couldn't be trusted with the security of the state. The loss of confidential driving licence details cemented this verdict and helped turn the public against identity cards.

Surging oil prices has made heating and driving far more expensive. Food is going the same way. “Not my fault” says Brown with some justification - but having spent 10 years taking the credit for every economic good fortune, he can't really get upset when he's blamed for the bad times.

The April fiasco over the abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax, a measure proudly introduced by Brown himself in his 2007 Budget, caused outrage as 5.7million of the less well-off in the UK started paying more in income tax. Why nobody in the Treasury could see this coming has never been made clear.

Yet another Darling emergency measure to try to clean the stables was given no credit by voters smarting from the Government's incompetence.

London reacted by turfing out Ken Livingstone and electing Tory Boris Johnson as mayor - the million plus votes he polled gives him a personal mandate never before seen in Britain.

The council elections on the same day presented the Tories with stunning victories. The Crewe & Nantwich by-election disaster was further humiliation for Brown.

The latest opinion poll puts the Tories on 49%, unheard of in modern political history.

The Labour Party is in turmoil and there's talk of a palace coup in the autumn if Labour hasn't started to peg back the Conservative lead by the time of Labour's annual conference.

Twelve months which started with Brown walking on water have ended with him sinking in shark infested waters. The job he dreamed of has become a nightmare.

He could turn things around - especially if, God forbid, there's a horrendous terror onslaught within these islands.

The best Brown can hope for at the next election is to deny Cameron outright victory - 12 months ago, I believed Cameron's only hope would be to deny Brown a parliamentary majority.

How things change in just one year.

CARSWELL JOINS OBAMA CAMP

AN Essex Conservative MP who is influential on the right of the party has come out to back publicly putative Democratic nominee Barack Obama in the US presidential election this November.

Under the heading “Why I want Obama to win” Harwich MP Douglas Carswell tells readers of the ConservativeHome web site: “As a Conservative, I naturally felt I ought to want McCain to win. And yet, I can't really find much reason why.

“Conservatives like me who favour small government, the free market and decentralised power have often found ourselves willing on the likes of a Bush senior or a John Major. We do so hoping that they'll be radical and break with the Big Government-knows-best consensus of the political establishment. In the end, they only seem to gain office by accommodating themselves to the same old State centralism.

“Until the US Republicans re-discover States Rights, the spirit of 1776 and much else besides, this UK Conservative is going to be cheering on Obama,” says Mr Carswell.

“Does Obama believe in small government? As with McCain, I really don't know. But I do know is that last week he became the first Presidential candidate since Nixon to refuse public money to fund his campaign.

“Instead of relying on state handouts, Obama's campaign will be funded by millions of people each giving small on-line donations. In the primaries alone, the $133 million spent came via 1.5 million web donors. That's less than $100 each,” says Mr Carswell.

“Maybe it's heresy not to support a big government, high tax and spend, establishment Republican, just because he's... um... a Republican?”

NEW EUROPEANS SETTLE ACROSS REGION

THERE are tens of thousands of “new Europeans” working in the UK, many of them in the six counties of the East of England. Government figures released in the Commons last week reveal that in 2006-07, the last financial year for which records are available, 28,520 EU citizens from the eight 2004 accession nations registered for National Insurance.

By parliamentary constituencies in this sub-region, the numbers were:

Braintree 530, Brentwood & Ongar 130, Bury St Edmunds 330, Chelmsford West 310, Colchester 470, Essex North 160, Harwich 190, Ipswich 690, Maldon and Chelmsford East 160, Norfolk South-West 910, Rayleigh 60, Saffron Walden 340, Suffolk Central & Ipswich North 210, Suffolk Coastal 390, Suffolk South 170, and Suffolk West 590, and Waveney 150.

NO MORE `VIOLENT CRIME'

CASTLE Point UKIP MP Bob Spink was told in a written answer from the Home Office that the term “violent crime” is no longer used in connection with recorded crime statistics and figures are now provided for violence against the person.

Statistics giving the number of offences of violence against the person per 1,000 population in Essex revealed that there were 14 per 1,000 in 2002-03, 16 in both 2003-04, 15 in 2005-06, and 14 in 2006-07.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter