View from the House.
Forget the weather, the American election or even (unobserved by the wider world, but a hot topic at Westminster) reform of the working hours of the House of Commons – there are some Labour MPs for whom the only topic is Blair vs Brown.
Charlie Whelan may have gone but the spinning goes on. Despite the evidence of how much harm the continuing spat does Labour, it sometimes seems like Verona in Romeo and Juliet – if you are not a Capulet you must be a Montagu, so that is that!
The Brownites thought their man played a blinder at the Commons crease with his pre-Budget report. Blair took the flak back in September; he was the man who appeared gaunt and strained during the petrol crisis.
Now it is beaming Brown who gets to hand out the goodies.
His mini-Budget (forget the ‘report’ bit) was devised with political finesse to drive a wedge between the headbangers and the sensibles among the fuming farmers and fuel protesters. The mouths of the elderly are, not to put too fine a point on it, being stuffed with gold.
Even Brown’s enemies acknowledged his fiscal legerdemain. Green-fingered Gordon managed to buy the good will of the moderate hauliers while keeping his eye securely on recent polls showing how badly Labour is doing among the elderly. If you don’t vote Labour – the sub text was not far from the surface – you don’t get the next instalment in the pensions package.
Labour HQ will be keenly eyeing the focus group returns and forthcoming opinion polls but even if they do not pick up immediately, it will be hard to deny Brown a temporary victory in the opinion poll that matters above all – the party view. And yet his detractors are not going to give up. They will go on suggesting that he would make a great foreign secretary (preferably abroad). On present arithmetic there are going to be enough of them re-elected next time round to thwart his still burning ambition to succeed Blair – despite the prime minister having indicated recently he would like to give up ‘soon’, perhaps only two years into the next parliament.