Leading article: After another fine mess, Mr Brown needs to show signs of conviction

Related Topics

After last week's calamitous defeat for the Labour Party in the town hall elections, it was imperative for Gordon Brown to steady the ship of Government and project an image of calm and authoritative leadership. Yet the Prime Minister has failed to provide any of this. Instead, he has stumbled from one imbroglio to another. Tragically, the only image that has been projected from Downing Street is one of haplessnessand desperation.

And if the Prime Minister is tempted to blame circumstance or bad luck for his predicament, he should think again. This week's confusion over a Scottish referendum on independence is only the latest in a long line of disasters for which Mr Brown is inescapably responsible. A long line that goes back at least to last year's Budget, before Mr Brown became Prime Minister, and in which he pre-announced this year's abolition of the 10p income tax rate.

Another bad decision was taken in his early days at No 10, although it was not announced until December. That was the decision to resume Mr Blair's failed attempt to extend the maximum period of detention without charge of terrorist suspects. As Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, argued this week, "This Parliament settled the matter in March 2006 at 28 days." The 42-day proposal is unnecessary, divisive and damaging. It looks as if Mr Brown is doing it simply to curry votes with the editors, writers and readers of authoritarian newspapers. In which case it is both unprincipled and unsuccessful. It was one thing for Mr Blair to fight and lose on this issue in the twilight of his premiership; it is quite another for Mr Brown to do so for a principle on which he appears to lack conviction in his first year in office.

The reclassification of cannabis, confirmed by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, this week appears to be another example of the same phenomenon: a desperate attempt to appeal to the populist media. When he became Prime Minister, Mr Brown asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look at whether the medical evidence justified returning cannabis to class B. The council has ruled that there is not. Yet the Government has gone ahead and reclassified the drug anyway. So much for Mr Brown's promises last week to "listen and learn".

And now we have the future of the United Kingdom being treated as the accidental by-product of some too-clever-by-half tactical manoeuvre, which was designed to embarrass Alex Salmond, the cocky leader of the Scottish National Party, but which has backfired horribly. Once again, Mr Brown seems to have made a strategic error some time ago. In agreeing to the review of devolution led by Sir Kenneth Calman that began last month, he was once again "triangulating", as Mr Clarke complained.

The Calman review suggests that devolution is not working, and that there is some soggy compromise between the status quo and independence. But a rational policy from the Government would surely be to argue that devolution is a success and to stand firm on the slippery slope that the SNP hopes will carry the Scottish people, currently opposed to independence, to its goal. David Cameron's charge, that Mr Brown put calculation above principle in this matter, sounds woundingly plausible.

This newspaper welcomed Mr Brown's succession on the basis that he was committed to social justice, a practical green agenda and a rules-based internationalism. If he is to have any hope at all of recovering the situation – and it is beginning to feel as if a point of no return has already been passed – he needs to start to take decisions and to defend them on the basis of the strong convictions that we believe him to hold.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn