Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Gordon Brown compared to John Major

You never hear any commentator compare Brown to John Major, despite the similarities of their positions (taking over mid-term after 10 years of an enormously successful but now unpopular prime minister) ...and, of course, Major really was an unknown quantity (3 months as Foreign secretary and Chancellor for just one budget).

In April/May 1990, Labour were scoring over 50% compared to the Tories in the low 30s in opinion polls (ICM) and yet Major went on to win in 1992. Now it's Labour in the low 30s but the Tories struggle to score over 40%. (see www.ukpollingreport.co.uk)

In 1990, inflation was over 9% and interest rates were as high as 15%! Unemployment was on the way up as the 90s recession bit. I could imagine Brown saying: you've never had it so good! (see www.bized.co.uk)

Provided Brown can get out of Iraq (and the US Democrats might sort that out for him) and provided he hasn't sold anyone a lordship then his position is good.

The interesting thing will be how Cameron responds to Brown, currently the Tories try to portray Brown as a centralising control-freak whose urge to meddle and tax is screwing up the economy - but, despite the recent hoohah about inflation, no-one is currently predicting a recession, so a year down the line, if inflation is back on target and the economy continues to grow, this won't wash.

If Cameron is to avoid being cast as a soft, hand-wringing version of Blair then he has to come up with some eye-catching policies. Which way will he go? Green? Brown will point to how this will hit the consumer in the pocket. Tax cuts? Brown will get a tax cut in before the next election and then ask what the Tories are going to cut back on to pay for more tax cuts. Privatisation? What could they privatise apart from very controversial things like the NHS or Post Office? Reform of the House of Lords? Who cares?

I suspect that Cameron could most easily wrong foot Brown by advocating policies for decentralisation, along the lines of taking operational control of the NHS out of the hands of politicians and devolving power from Whitehall to the English regions (as has been done for Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland) - unless, of course, Brown gets there first as he did when he gave the Bank of England operational independence.

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