Andrew Grice: Not so much paralysis, more like 'waiting for Gordo'


On the face of it, the list of Bills outlined in the Queen's Speech looked fairly routine and respectable. But in the Government's 140-page briefing pack, there was precious little flesh on the bones. The reason is that the crucial detail of many of the measures remains to be settled because Tony Blair will no longer be Prime Minister by the end of the parliamentary session which opened yesterday. The speech should have been subtitled "waiting for Gordo".

Gordon Brown is happy enough to go along with its main theme - security. Like Mr Blair, he is convinced the Tories under David Cameron are on the wrong side of the law and order argument in the public's eyes.

But the lack of detail was marked. The Government cannot answer many of the big questions arising from the speech.

It cannot say whether it will again try to raise the 28-day limit for which suspected terrorists can be held without charge to the 90-day limit defeated by MPs a year ago.

It can't say what it will do about House of Lords reform, the Trident nuclear missile programme, or give the contents of its climate change Bill. Why? Because the details still have to be agreed by Mr Brown.

That doesn't mean there is paralysis in government, as some ministers and civil servants had feared.

The wounds left by the failed September coup against Mr Blair led by some over-zealous Brownites are healing.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor are working closely together again, and working gradually through the boxes that Mr Blair will be able to tick before he departs and the ones he will leave blank for Mr Brown.

Despite the tensions of recent months, there are renewed hopes among Blairites and Brownites of getting the much-vaunted "stable and orderly transition" back on track.

Indeed, yesterday will be remembered not for the contents of the speech but as the moment when Mr Blair finally endorsed Mr Brown as his inevitable successor.

Last month, he refused to do so when challenged by Mr Cameron, fuelling another bout of speculation that a heavyweight Blairite such as John Reid would stand against Mr Brown. Mr Reid sometimes tweak's Mr Brown's tail by hinting that he will run. But Mr Blair acknowledged yesterday that there is only one real heavyweight in Labour's ranks.

His final Queen's Speech was a potentially difficult hurdle for Mr Blair, the moment it became painfully obvious that he is a lame duck. It might have sparked a new wave of "go now" demands - not least from Labour MPs, many of whom wonder privately whether he should hang on until next summer.

But Mr Blair reminded his critics yesterday that he is still a class act. On a difficult wicket, he looked as though he was "enjoying this", as Margaret Thatcher memorably remarked in the Commons bear pit - after she had announced her resignation as Prime Minister.

But Mr Cameron failed to go down the "lame duck" route, letting Mr Blair off the hook. In his speech, the Tory leader failed to match his strong recent performances at Prime Minister's Questions.

He was squashed by Mr Blair in a "man versus boy" fight that Labour hopes will continue when Mr Brown succeeds Mr Blair.

How Mr Cameron will measure up against Mr Brown is the $64,000 question. Until their battle commences, real politics is on hold. We are all waiting for Gordo.

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