Nice no more

16 May 08
MIKE THATCHER | According to the governor of the Bank of England, the nice decade is over. And doesn’t Gordon Brown know it.

According to the governor of the Bank of England, the nice decade is over. And doesn’t Gordon Brown know it.

Former colleagues and New Labour spouses have been queuing up to slate the prime minister in their memoirs. Apparently he’s ‘frustrating, annoying, bewildering and prickly’, and he ‘rattled the keys’ to Number 10 over his beleaguered predecessor.

Labour backbenchers are equally unhappy, forcing the PM to announce a compensation package for the losers from the 10p tax fiasco. The extra borrowing involved, £2.7bn, threatens Brown’s cherished fiscal rules, not to mention his reputation for prudence.

It used to be the Tories who were labelled the ‘Nasty Party’, but Brown could be forgiven for thinking that Labour has taken over that mantle.

Ruling parties rapidly slip into internecine warfare when they sense that power is beginning to slip away. If Labour loses the Crewe & Nantwich by-election, this process will only accelerate.

Of course, Brown hasn’t done much to help himself. The decision to abolish the 10p tax rate was his, and only belatedly has he admitted what a howler it was.

There’s little to play with in the public finances, but the PM has to be bold. The draft Queen’s Speech was an opportunity for him to set out the battleground for the next election and to prove that he is a leader with vision.

Brown kept to his theme of personalising public services and giving ‘real power and control’ to patients, parents and tenants. But his statement lacked any great surprises.

Worse, its focus on consultation, empowerment and ‘letting the people decide’ is unlikely to play well in the current political climate.

Parking the social care green paper until 2009 and playing down the move to polyclinics are likely to be seen as signs of further dithering and evasion in a desperate bid to avoid political embarrassment.

There must be a better way. Brown – and his government’s – main hope is to resolutely press ahead with reforming and improving public services. Meanwhile, the PM will need to develop a thick skin if he is to survive.

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