Andrew Grice: The Week in politics

Dear Gordon, take a few tips from an old pro
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Hi Gordon , I'm glad you finally managed to get a break. I hope you don't mind me dropping you a note that goes wider than the Middle East stuff. For what it's worth, I want to pass on the benefit of my experience and be a candid friend.

I assure you I want a fourth Labour victory as much as you do. I have taken no pleasure at all from your recent problems. I have told the so-called "ultra-Blairites" to button their lips, because the media is desperate to spread another outbreak of the "TBGBs". My lot have been very disciplined, except Charles Clarke, of course!

Anyway, my first bit of advice is, "Don't let the buggers get you down". If there was one trick I learnt in my 10 years in there, it was to keep the show on the road and keep calm even if you feel it's all collapsing around you.

Don't let the criticism get to you quite so much. When you're Prime Minister, you get blamed when it rains. You just have to accept that and get on with it. There isn't much point in trying to convince people it's not your fault, even when the criticism is unfair.

So grow a thicker skin and worry less about the media. You can't monitor every bit of breaking news on Sky. Leave that to your people. And stop ringing newspaper editors at midnight. Save the nuclear option for the times when it really matters.

Remember that political commentators are now like City experts: the market is either up or down and there's no in-between. Some wanted you to have a great honeymoon only so they could knock you down harder when it ended.

Eventually they'll get bored with Cameron and then you can expose him for being all style, no substance (I should know, shouldn't I!!!).

Stop trying to please the Daily Mail. I wish I hadn't bothered. I know you have to do business with Rupert's lot but don't try to appease them on Europe; you'll never satisfy them. Don't ignore your natural media allies. If you are going to create a "progressive consensus", you'll need them.

Remember that you are PM, not Leader of the Opposition. Don't underestimate the power of your office. If you lead from the front, and set out a few key policies that fit into an overall picture, I know you can turn it round.

Stake out your ground in the new year and hold it. The public will respect you for fighting your corner even if they don't agree with every decision.

Don't make promises you can't keep. The media and opposition parties will remember them. You're getting a bad press now for making rash statements on returning foreign criminals, boosting women's pensions, ensuring British jobs for British workers and ending mixed-sex wards (Oops, sorry, that was one of mine).

Don't let Prime Minister's Questions dominate your whole week. I never watch it these days, but I thought you got the measure of Cameron in the last session before Christmas. I know it's against your instincts, but try a bit of self-deprecating humour in front of the mirror beforehand. If it worked for me, it can work for you!

I know that pots and kettles will come to mind, but you did well when you cut down on the spin and things went wrong when you allowed it to return. I suspect the real turning point was not the non-election but when you went to Iraq during the Tory conference. So make the spin "no spin" again.

I understand why you wanted a clear-out in No 10, but some really good people were lost in the handover. You could do with a few older, wiser heads in No 10. I really did benefit from people such as Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Sally Morgan who could tell me when I was about to do something stupid.

I reckon your people respect you so much that they are reluctant to challenge you. A couple of older heads could take some grade-B decisions for you and prevent a logjam in the machine. You can't do everything.

Trust your senior ministers and project a team leadership. You don't want to give the impression you're taking every decision. It just allows the Tories run the "control freak" stuff.

Don't let the Tories accuse you of watering down my public service reforms. They are desperate to present themselves to Middle England as the party that will complete them. I know you want to tweak things, but Cameron will seize the reform agenda if you don't.

One tiny matter: could you possibly send me a cheque for the Granita meal. I know you didn't have a main course, but going halves was part of the agreement and I have (finally!) honoured my side. The lectures don't pay as much as the headlines suggest and the mortgage payments are bloody crippling.

Sorry it was a bit tense when you moved in and I'm really sad about that spat with Cherie over the curtains.

I hope this helps. Must get off to church, which is easier now I can have the full works. Cherie sends her ... regards.

All the best of luck in 2008 (You'll need it!!!)

Tony

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