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Eagle Eye

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John Rentoul: Gordon Brown, late again

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Tuesday, 19 January 2010 at 04:39 pm

Point two on Peter Watt's book, Inside Out, was made by Iain Martin, now a must-read blogger at The Wall Street Journal. The main point of the first part of Watt's serialisation was the full chapter and verse on Gordon Brown's marching the party machine up the hill of preparing for an election, only to march it down again. The detail, including the £1.2m bill and pulped direct mail, was damning of Brown.

But Martin makes the essential point, that the preparations were for an election that was already too late. 

What would have worked in terms of timing would have been for Brown to turn up on the first day of Labour conference having come straight from seeing the Queen (followed by the media circus) to say that he had asked for a dissolution. He could then have kicked off an election campaign from the podium, telling his troops to leave the hall and go out and fight for a fourth term etc. The Tories would have been blind-sided and all the momentum would have been with Labour. I remember senior Tories at the time expecting him to do this and then being delighted when he flunked it.

Instead, Brown waited, let the speculation build, delivered a stinker of a conference speech and then gave the Tories a chance to mount their fightback in Blackpool. The polls reversed and Brown pulled out in a panic on the Friday (only going public on Saturday).

Several further observations:

1) The Tory revival that autumn was not just about George Osborne’s platform announcement of a pledge to cut inheritance tax. That was the big moment when their fightback coalesced, but there was more to it than just that.

2) Liam Fox’s ferocious attack on Brown’s trip to Iraq during the Tory conference was also critical. It really motivated his own side and played brilliantly for them on TV.

3) Cameron’s fightback had started weeks before conference with a series of initiatives on “Broken Britain” and crime. He was very fired up by the time he arrived in Blackpool.

It is fascinating to read Watt’s account of how Brown cancelled the election. But everyone involved in Labour seems to have missed that the time to strike was missed by at least ten days. They allowed the Tories their conference and let their opponents get back in the game. When Brown sat down with Andrew Marr on that fateful Saturday he was already up the creek without a paddle.

Absolutely right.

Photograph of Peter Watt by Allan Milligan


Among the innaccuracies
quietzapple wrote:
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 at 05:35 pm (UTC)
in this travesty are the falsehood that the polls reversed in that week.

It was obvious that an election would have been held, despite the fact there was no need for one, if a larger majority could have been gained.

The tory press hysteria made that an unlikely outcome.