Saturday 12 April 2008

Is Gordon doomed?

As the Prime Minister prepares for his American visit, it seems he can do nothing right. The weekend papers are woeful. Matthew Parris, while elegant in his demolition of Gordon's credentials, is predictable. But the Guardian has turned on his leadership with a vengeance. Yesterday, it was that ficklest of friends, Polly Toynbee. Today, more seriously, it is a pretty sharp leader and a sharper piece by Martin Kettle, citing the collective mumbling from the backbenches. The economy is feeling the pinch, as mortgages dry up and European holidays become more expensive. Bizarrely, Mark Penn has been giving advice. And even the US jaunt is mis-timed, as it coincides with a long-awaited Papal trip.

So, is it really curtains for Gordon? Probably not. For one thing, Boris Johnson seems to have peaked in the London Mayoral polls, and after a serious wobble, Ken Livingstone has now got a better than evens chance of winning, once Green and LibDem transfers are counted in (and Ken must do everything he can to win the latter); if Labour holds London, it will be a serious blow to David Cameron and be as valuable to Labour as the Tories holding Wandsworth was in 1990. Second, though the economy is feeling the heat of the global and banking crisis, its fundamentals remain strong. Employment remains high and unemployment low; inflation is still manageable. And third, there is still not yet a credible alternative government. Cameron may be personable enough and be a better character on American Idol, if the opportunity presents itself. But his party remains either policy-lite or policy-disfunctional (as with its anti-patient health policy driven by someone whom Cameron has promised not to sack). And when these policies face proper scrutiny, the parties will be more evenly matched. But that's not to say it is not serious.

Brown has wasted months of disorganised leadership in Number 10 (now finally in better shape) and pandering to a never-satisfied backbench left-wing (and some of his ministers still seem to think they, rather than the electorate, should be their main audience). Gordon must now set a small number of clear, attainable and potentially popular goals across government and see them being delivered. If he does that - and holds London - the picture could be very different six months hence.

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