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The Great Unknown: What’s Gordon like under fire?

June 16th, 2006
    Could he become PM without ever having to face a grilling?

bown happy -brown sad.jpgOne of the hardest things about trying to predict the next General Election is that, extraordinarily, we know so little about Gordon Brown.

If, as is his plan, he manages to move into the top job without having to go through the ardours of fighting a leadership election he will have managed to by-pass, yet again, situations where he would have faced fierce questioning.

For as both the Tories and Lib Dems showed during their leadership campaigns the process of putting the focus on the candidates over an extended period can be very revealing. The way Cameron reacted when facing a group of people who were hostile to him, as in the first Tory debate, brought out one of his weaknesses – his temper.

    But if Gordon does get it unopposed then there will be no debates, no Paxman grillings and not even a discussion on Woman’s Hour about his taste in underpants.

In short there will be nothing that will be a pointer to what he’d be like when the questioning gets tough.

For one of the remarkable features of his tenure as Chancellor is that he’s always managed to leave it to one of his juniors during treasury questions when difficult issues have been put.

In an excellent article in the online news magazine, First Post, Richard Brooks writes. “…the Chancellor’s two most significant contributions to how taxpayers’ money is spent are tax credits and the private finance initiative (under which almost all public investment is now made). The policies have much in common: they involve tens of billions of pounds being spent every year; they’re designed to flatter Gordon’s books; they generate enormous bureaucracy and waste; and they are both hugely controversial. They cry out for their architect to be held accountable.Yet Brown has not once debated either policy in Parliament – or anywhere else for that matter. Instead he sends in hapless junior ministers to thumb frantically through reams of briefings while the opposition benches seethe with frustration at being unable to nail their man. “

It was the same last week, Brooks goes on, after the opposition chose to use some of their parliamentary time to debate on the latest critical report on tax credits. What happened? Gordon found a meeting to go to in Brussels.

You cannot but admire the skill that Brown has shown in avoiding such situations. For the problem any leadership candidate who has been round for so long has is baggage. Yet Gordon has been able to keep this to a minmum by his astute parliamentary tactics.

So how would he fare against Cameron? Who knows? One of the reasons why betting on the next election is such a tricky thing to do. Brown’s price in the Labour leadership market has eased during the week from 0.36/1 to 0.38/1.

Mike Smithson






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