Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Brown needs to change his way of operating

Gordon Brown may seem on probation, with many ministers waiting to see what happens at the truncated party conference and in the Glenrothes by-election before deciding his fate. There is quite a lot that remains within the Prime Minister's powers during that time.

For a start, Brown has generally given good rousing conference speeches. The question this time is more than ever whether what resonates in the hall in Manchester touches people worried about their household budgets at home. Or, rather, whether the soundbites do so, as we don't have the equivalent of the 38m people who watched McCain, Obama and Palin for leaders' conference speeches here.

After the conference, Brown will need to manage any reshuffle wisely and ensure that any further policy announcements exceed expectations ahead of the Glenrothes by-election. Because expectations are now so low for that poll, if Brown were able to pull off a narrow win, he would probably change the political weather and his fortunes considerably.

But one thing has become clear in recent weeks. It was obvious in the reaction to David Miliband's Guardian article in July, and it was apparent in David Cairns's thoughtful and heartfelt letter of resignation yesterday. Brown needs to reign in those who spend their time badmouthing colleagues ostensibly on his behalf to other MPs and to the press. Their actions are making things far worse for their boss. Today's sour Daily Mail profile of Cairns has all the hallmarks of such a briefing in a paper still personally loyal to Brown (even as its pro-Brown leader confidently tells us he has lost the next election).

If Brown is to survive until a 2010 election - and it seems a bigger 'if' as the days pass - he needs to change the way he operates, the way people operate on his behalf and the way that Downing Street is run. The old ways of doing things may have worked for an all-powerful Chancellor; they are steadily weakening him as Prime Minister.

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