The corridors of power …

A pensions green paper is also due soon. It’s supposed to cope with the demise of final salary schemes without adding to the regulatory burden or pushing taxes up.

On the party front, the rise of Charles Clarke poses problems. His political position is temporarily unassailable – the government cannot afford to lose another education secretary. That gives him bargaining power. As for John Reid, new party chair, he is a different kind of Scot from our Gordon, Catholic and west coast against Brown’s east coast protestantism.

Brown’s macroeconomic luck was bound to run out at some time. Economic slowdown will reduce the revenue flow on which his spending plans depend.

Commentators were quick to seize on the gloomy forecast for borrowing and/or tax increases from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research last week. The headlines shout ‘black hole’, £20bn deep by 2006.

Brown is in a hole. His rhetoric and manner are badly suited to coping with bad news. But Brown’s fate may lie far away, in Washington or Baghdad.

Yet things may not be as dark as they seem. The other day, the Inland Revenue said reduced intake from duty on share transactions may be matched by excess proceeds on stamp duty on house purchase.

There may be some comfort, too, in recalling what the psephologists say.

It’s not recession or other bad economic news that distresses the voters so much as their perception of incompetence. What the public hates is dissent. Brown must avoid public disputes with his colleagues, including the tenant at No 10.

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