Monday, April 16, 2007

Gordon Brown's big chance

On the 1st May, Tony Blair will have been UK Prime Minister for 10 years, unlike Margaret Thatcher (who, after 10 years as PM, famously made a speech about going on and on) Blair has already said he will go - presumably sometime soon after the UK local elections in May.

Gordon Brown will almost certainly become Labour leader after Blair goes. Most political analysts at the moment are concentrating on Brown's weaknesses; especially as opinion polls predict that Brown will lose to the Tory leader, David Cameron, in a General Election; but I suspect that they are underestimating the strength of his position.

Only twice in the last 40 years has a serving Prime Minister resigned mid-term. One was Harold Wilson in 1976 and the other was Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Wilson was replaced by James Callaghan who went on to lose the 1979 Election (to Thatcher); Thatcher was replaced by John Major who went on to win the 1992 Election.

I'm sure that Gordon Brown is well aware that the policy which made Thatcher so unpopular (the Poll Tax) was immediately ditched along with Thatcher, and was one of the reasons that Major got an immediate boost in the polls. The strength of Brown's position is that he will be able to ditch some of the more unpopular Blair policies.

The main issue that is sapping support for Labour is Iraq. If Brown pulls out of Iraq, then that issue is effectively neutralised and remains associated with Blair, in the same way that the Poll Tax was associated with Thatcher. I think that he'll also move away from the spin-doctoring that has been such a hallmark of the Blair government.

I wouldn't be too surprised if he drops expensive, unpopular policies such as ID Cards and concentrates on keeping the economy ticking over well enough for him to get some tax cuts in before the next election. Gordon Brown is canny enough to know that mid-term opinion polls mean nothing (Kinnock was way ahead of Thatcher when she fell, but still lost to Major) and that the Clinton slogan still holds true: The economy, stupid.

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