Simon Carr's Sketch: The iron fist needs all of its rivets tightening

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The Independent Online

Watching Gordon Brown perform, one thing is clear. Being PM is much more difficult than he thought it was. I began to think he may need his rivets tightening soon, he takes the bumps very hard.

Some examples from the past day or two.

1) Alan West, a Brown appointee for terror, goes on the radio and says he's not entirely convinced of the case for increasing the 28-day limit for detention without charge. My heart sank. I entirely agreed with the sentiment but I thought of the Third Law of Politics: "Friends are more dangerous than enemies." He was, I feared, setting up a statement three months out, just before the big debate: "Remember me, the sceptic? I didn't believe it before but boy, I do now!"

Far from understanding the tactical value of that, Mr Brown had him in immediately and forced a public recantation. Thereby destroying his credibility as an objective presence.

2) Mr Brown made the anti-terror statement himself. It sounded entirely unexceptional. By the time he got to the advisory group promoting citizen education classes in Bradford, his back bench was already in a torpor. There was nothing prime ministerial in it, nothing outside the Home Secretary's ability to announce. Unless her competence was ... Ohhh! OK. But that's the next point.

3) The Cabinet is astonishingly lightweight at the top end. Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary. All in their various ways treading water. Then the Tufty Club. Those three youngsters who have no more feel for national political life than they seem to have.

As for Mr Brown's other support, what about his press office? I hardly know them but suggest they're just not up to it. Very nice people, I might say. Not Damien, obviously but most of them are perfectly nice, well-meaning people who should be doing what they were trained to do. Making the election announcement a BBC exclusive was insane (Boulton is a jealous god); the handling of yesterday's release on the e-borders contract was faecal.

4) Then the back bench. In Parliament. Of course they're insignificant in any real way but they are treated with a remarkable lack of emotional intelligence (or manners, as we used to call it) by the front bench. Mr Brown treated Stephen Pound yesterday in an inexplicably stupid way. Everyone likes Mr Pound. Well, not everyone. He asked Mr Brown a relatively respectable patsy question, asking him whether it was morally right or legally possible for one person to fund a political party. Mr Brown mumbled "It should not happen" and sat down.

A wholesale lack of pastoral care of his back bench is not a brilliant idea just now.

Two years ago, I suggested MrBrown would recall Rehoboam's coronation speech: "You have been chastised with whips; I shall chastise you with scorpions!" But I was joking.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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