A little advice, PM, now the holiday's over

Our political editor gives Mr Blair a few ideas on how to win back the initiative

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Dear Tony,
Welcome back. Hope you had a great time. If you're anything like the rest of us you won't be relishing the prospect of returning to work after the holidays, so I thought you might like some hints on making life a bit easier. Let's face it, things weren't going too well before you left, and no matter when you decide to hold an election, you've got some catching up to do, and a few pitfalls to avoid. Here's a checklist of things to do: Forget about spin

Dear Tony, Welcome back. Hope you had a great time. If you're anything like the rest of us you won't be relishing the prospect of returning to work after the holidays, so I thought you might like some hints on making life a bit easier. Let's face it, things weren't going too well before you left, and no matter when you decide to hold an election, you've got some catching up to do, and a few pitfalls to avoid. Here's a checklist of things to do: Forget about spin

While you were away it was reported that Oskar Lafontaine, the ex-German finance minister, had rubbished New Labour in a book. I doubt if Oskar's The Heartbeats of the Left is going to be on your Christmas reading list; he was never a great fan of the Third Way.

However, old Oskar touches a raw nerve about New Labour. John Prescott never much rated it, and Gordon Brown is nursing Old Labourish tendencies for tax and spend. As Mr Gould told you in one of his memos: "The New Labour brand has been badly contaminated." This does not mean you have to turn the clock back to Old Labour, renationalisation, punitive income tax rates, and beer and sandwiches at No 10 for the unions. But it does mean you have to focus more on substance than spin. That means firm leadership by you, not government by focus group.

Sack Philip Gould

The summer leaks of the Philip Gould memos painted a picture of a government obsessed with its image, ready to turn this way or that depending on the reaction of half-a-dozen hand-picked members of a focus group. They say you shouldn't shoot the messenger if you don't like the message, but this particular messenger deserves the Order of the Elbow because it appears he mislaid the message. So sack Philip Gould. Alastair Campbell may say that if you get rid of him someone else will have to do the focus groups. But don't let them get so close that every time a memo goes missing, you and your government get the blame for their views.

Don't get so paranoid about the paparazzi

Your son, Euan, has demonstrated in Leicester Square that he won't be gated at No 10. No matter how much you try to protect them, children's personalities come out and they will make mistakes - just ask Jack Straw. As for pictures of baby, the snaps of you strolling with your family in France was the kind of good publicity money could not buy.

Keep an eye on the Chancellor

Mr Brown has had a brilliant year, culminating in the £343bn pre-election spending splurge. He appears in charge. Cabinet colleagues grumble that he's running Whitehall from the Treasury. Now he's married to Sarah he is being seen as your natural successor, and unless you match his gravitas, he will have the job sooner than expected. It won't be long before he produces his own package - a girl called Prudence, perhaps. "Gordon the family man" could be an unstoppable force.

Make an early announcement on pensioners

The Chancellor is bound to have something up his sleeve for his pre-Budget statement in, say, December. You can steal his thunder by dropping a hint in your keynote speech to party conference. Re-installing the link between earnings and the state pensions would go a long way to restoring pensioners' confidence.

Get out of Downing Street a bit more

Using the Queen's Flight to get to Italy reinforced the impression that you are out of touch with ordinary voters. Why didn't you go by easyJet like others trying to save money? It happens to all prime ministers; it has happened to you faster than expected. Why not use the Tube more often, get out on the train, see what the rest of us have to put up with, tell your Cabinet colleagues to do the same. And do you really still need the Thatcher gate at the end of Downing Street?

Stop your knee-jerking

You came back from the Whitsun break saying that you would not follow every headline, and then you announce that yobs are to be taken by the police to cash tills to pay instant fines. The Home Secretary is still embarrassed about it.

Show more leadership

You could start on the euro. Mr Campbell complains that pro-European papers don't show enough of a lead, but it's for you to lead. Remember that the policy is to join, providing the economic conditions are met, with the emphasis on joining. You can't duck the issue because Hague is going to try to turn the general election into a "keep the pound" referendum.

Stop trying to be everyone's friend

At the last session of Prime Minister's Questions before the summer break, you clobbered Mr Hague on the gay rights issue, after the Lords defeat on Section 28. And you impressed your Cabinet by standing up for your convictions.

Sort out the Lords

You have allowed the Tory peers to present themselves as the last line of defence for democracy against the power of the Labour majority in the Commons on "touchstone" issues that appeal to the Daily Mail readers. Now they are ready to fight you on trial by jury and the Countryside Bill. You must make it clear how you intend to reform the Lords.

Don't let William Hague bounce you into populist policies

The Tory leader made a prat of himself by saying in GQ magazine that, when a lad, he could drink 14 pints a day; his personal rating has plummeted. So much for being tough on asylum-seekers and football yobs.

Think about a special health tax

Mr Brown's boost to NHS spending is overdue, but it will be eroded by costly drugs and procedures. Allocating 2p in the pound to the NHS could provide a long-term solution.

Leave morality to the bishops

Back up commitment to the family with money. Research shows children from broken homes do worse academically than those from stable backgrounds. Make the removal of child poverty your top priority. If that means restoring tax breaks, so be it.

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