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

Share
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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice