Magazine article The Spectator

Reasons for Mr Cameron to Be Cheerful as the Summer Holidays Begin

Magazine article The Spectator

Reasons for Mr Cameron to Be Cheerful as the Summer Holidays Begin

Article excerpt

Gordon Brown will not holiday abroad this summer. Not for him the allure of a Tuscan palace or the sunbeds of Sharm el-Sheikh. The Prime Minister has instead created perfect happiness inside his home in Fife: a room wired up to the 10 Downing Street computer system where he can monitor the government he now controls. He intends to do nothing else this month, save for a quick visit to the south coast. Besides, he already seems well on his way to his main summer destination -- the implosion of the Conservative party.

In the space of a few weeks the opinion polls have turned around, and Labour has a seemingly impregnable nine-point lead. Mr Cameron's aides have been reduced to claiming that they will 'make history' by being the first Opposition party to win an election from such a disadvantage. David Davis is trying to stiffen the resolve of his shadow Cabinet colleagues, telling them how the greatest military victories were achieved by seizing opportunity in such moments of despair. From the Tory back benches, it is hard to see how this situation could be recovered.

Hard, but not impossible. Amid all the gloom, there are a few rays of light for the Conservatives -- and the first of these is that the Brown bounce may be just that, and that his lead will dwindle as inexorably as John Major's. It is just a few weeks since the very same polls suggested Mr Brown was a surefire vote-loser, and the Tories were celebrating their capture of 900 council seats. The suddenness of this opinion poll reversal suggests an underlying volatility -- although one shadow Cabinet member tells me 'you can expect us to be behind until Christmas'.

Mr Brown is dropping plenty of hints about an early election. His aides say work has started on the manifesto (as if he hadn't finished it himself months ago) and that fundraising is beginning for an autumn polling day. The more martial noises Labour makes about this, the more the Conservatives believe it is a ruse designed to force them to panic stations. A surprise election is hardly announced in advance. What this really shows us is a PM keeping his options open.

Mr Brown knows he cannot take this opinion poll lead to the bank -- and realises his luck may run out.

Most politicians, as a rule, have about three or four good ideas and get through them pretty quickly. So it may prove with Mr Brown. He has taken genuinely bold action on welfare, tightening criteria on lone parent benefits. Other ideas have been flakier, such as his plans for a uniformed border police.

Mr Brown's best moves at the Treasury, such as Bank of England independence, were announced in the first few weeks -- to be followed by the stealth taxes and the tax credits disaster. He has chosen the same blazing entrée this time, and it may be followed by the same dip.

The Tories should also remember that Mr Brown has dominated the news agenda since coming to 10 Downing Street, and his powers to do so will wane with every passing week.

The Daily Mail (which has overtaken the Sun as No. 10's most important newspaper) is beginning to smell a large, whiskered rat. It is as if the Prime Minister has made a list of the newspaper's criticisms of the Blair years, a recent editorial complained, and is ticking them off one by one. It finished by tearing into Mr Brown's border patrol proposal.

Mr Cameron has meanwhile marked out solid Conservative ground from which to attack Mr Brown. …

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