Why good news is bad news for the Prime Minister
A couple of weeks ago I described Gordon Brown’s position as that of a unfancied shot putter in an Olympic final. He has had two no throws and has to get the next one right even to compete in the final round – a round few think he will win.
More positively for the PM, I listed several factors that might give him a boost as he tries to survive. These included the quietening down of the MPs’ expenses storm, the major policy announcements he was planning to make before recess and the emergence of better economic news. The bad news for GB is that while events have gone broadly to plan it has made not a jot of difference to his poll rating.
The policy announcements in areas ranging from public service to climate change were treated reasonably seriously by the more thoughtful parts of the media. But no pick up in the polls. MPs’ expenses have largely disappeared from the front pages. But no pick up in the polls. And now the economic news is getting better. But still, so far, no pick up in the polls.
I suggested three other events that might help the PM. One was his ability to craft a radical, agenda-setting, Queen’s Speech. But given the indifference shown so far to his policy agenda, and the very limited time he has to get any measures through in the truncated final session, this looks like a forlorn hope.
This leaves two final straws of hope. Governments generally recover a bit of popularity in the summer just because politics is not so much in the news. Also, GB can look forward to a conference designed by his beleaguered party to be a rally for its equally beleaguered leader.
But once again the optimism looks misplaced. Scarcely has the PM gone on holiday than leadership speculation has started to rage, with Peter Mandelson now being seriously touted as a new leader.
There can be no question that Mandy is the dominant politician in Labour’s ranks. If there is to be a change, on talent and experience alone he should be the lead contender. But, even now, and with him being in cahoots with sworn past enemies like Charlie Wheelan, he is a highly controversial figure. If Labour does change leader before the election it will be controversial enough, but to do so after a contested and possibly acrimonious leadership battle (say, between Mandelson and Harman), would surely snap the already thin patience of the electorate.
If GB is to be replaced there needs to be a candidate with overwhelming support from the rest of the party. So if the Mandy camp is serious about leadership it needs, quite apart from sorting Mandy a Parliamentary seat, to build some strong alliances with all wings of the Party.
To do this while continuing to be seen as the person loyally propping up the present PM will be a challenge even for a man of Peter Mandelson’s substantial abilities.