The Brown identity

18 Apr 08
MIKE THATCHER | In politics, as in comedy, timing is everything. And timing, as we know, is not Gordon Brown’s strong suit.

In politics, as in comedy, timing is everything. And timing, as we know, is not Gordon Brown’s strong suit.

The PM’s diary clash with the Pope this week – overshadowing what was meant to be his big-ticket visit to the US – is the latest in a series of calamities that he appears predestined to endure.

From the election-that-never-was, to the abolition of the 10p tax rate and post office closures, Downing Street’s reputation-management skills are still proving negligible.

Worse, according to an increasingly hostile media, for most of the US – and even some of the UK – there is no reputation to manage. Brown, it seems, now has a ‘recognition’ problem, to add to his other well-rehearsed flaws.

All of which is extremely bad news for the government, in the run-up to the May 1 local elections, and in the midst of a global financial meltdown.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne has been quick to claim that the prime minister’s problem is not just one of personal style, but economic substance.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank, Osborne asserted that the former chancellor’s reputation for prudence is in tatters.

And there is certainly a debate to be had about the debt-fuelled bubble of bygone years, and the Treasury’s failure to ‘fix the roof when the sun was shining’.

Sadly for the Opposition, it’s a debate that – until very recently – they seemed remarkably reluctant to join.

Unlike the LibDems’ Vince Cable, who has been issuing jeremiads on this subject for years, the Conservatives have raised few objections to the deregulated, City-led boom. Their only quarrel with the government’s funding strategy for the public sector has been to argue for a freer hand for private finance – an approach that looks increasingly flakey as banks go cap in hand to Number 10.

No wonder then that Osborne’s ‘alternative vision’ for the economy is short on content. ‘Sharing the proceeds of growth’ does not amount to much of a strategy, beyond tax cuts – which for now have been discounted.

But if the Conservatives do not have coherence on their side, they do have one advantage over the government: time. Something that is rapidly running out for Gordon, who?

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