Leading article: Brown wins the conference trick

Share
Related Topics

Three weeks on, where do we stand? Three weeks ago, the Liberal Democrats were assembling in Bournemouth, while the administrator was working over the weekend to pull the plug out of the big socket at Lehman Brothers in Canary Wharf. Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister's hold on office seemed precarious as a minister, a whip and several Labour MPs had resigned from Government posts to demand a leadership election.

How different the landscape looks now. The financial crisis of which Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, tried to warn us in the interview in his croft over the summer, suddenly threatened to overwhelm the US political system. Its effects on the so-called real economy are still muted, but its impact on British politics was dramatic.

This newspaper was the first to detect a "Brown bounce" even before the opening of the Labour conference in Manchester, thanks to a well-timed ComRes poll that found that most people thought the crisis was the wrong time for Labour to think of changing prime minister. That poll also recorded a sharp drop in David Miliband's share price before the Foreign Secretary set foot in Manchester. The stage was set, therefore, for Gordon Brown to raise his game and use the economy to invite the voters to cling to the skirts of his experience for fear of something worse. Which he did, with some help from his wife, who introduced him with affecting sincerity, and from Mr Miliband, who managed to slip on the skin of his own banana.

Despite a little local difficulty over the premature announcement of Ruth Kelly's departure from the Cabinet, Mr Brown did enough in Manchester to rally his party and put his internal critics on the defensive.

That success, and the surprise rejection by the US Congress of the $700bn bailout plan on Monday, presented David Cameron with a more difficult task than he can have expected at the Conservative conference in Birmingham. As a result, Mr Cameron's messages were mixed. On Tuesday, he made a sombre attempt to muscle onto the news bulletins by offering Mr Brown support for which he had no need, while George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, returned to London to watch the crisis unfolding on the television in his office. Then in his big speech on Wednesday, Mr Cameron suspended his bipartisan approach to blame Mr Brown for having caused the crisis, or, rather, for having made it worse in Britain. And he threw some red meat to traditionalist Conservatives in the hall, going through what Alan Watkins calls today "the Daily Mail bumper fun book of politically correct idiocies by public officials in obscure bodies".

Mr Cameron's was a plausibly prime ministerial speech, but Mr Brown held the strongest card in the game of conference sequencing. It might be thought unfair that the Conservatives get to go last. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, must certainly think so: he made a good speech at the start of the conference season, but his opinion-poll gain has been washed away like a sandcastle on a beach. In government, however, Mr Brown can trump the Opposition with a reshuffle, and he used it to spring an October surprise. Nobody, not even Peter Mandelson himself, expected him to bring such a long-standing enemy back into the fold.

Whether he needed to do so is a moot point. He had already solidified his position, and Mr Cameron's conference had been overshadowed by the news from the markets. Mr Brown betrayed an unexpected gambler's mentality, going for "double or quits". It will either reinforce Mr Brown's image as a "serious person" pulling together a team of all the talents to handle the economic challenge; or it will throw away all that he has gained in the past three weeks by giving the impression of desperation.

We are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. There is something to admire in Mr Brown's determination to defy expectations. The most dangerous idea for him is that the pluralism and openness of his first weeks as Prime Minister was a synthetic phase; that is over now and he cannot change his basic political personality; and that he is therefore doomed to lose the next election. By bringing Mr (soon to be Lord) Mandelson back, he has certainly confounded settled assumptions about his character, as the bearer of grudges and cultivator of favourites.

He recognises, as perhaps some of his critics do not, that the British electorate is hostile to him – although not as hostile as it was three weeks ago – but that it is not yet positively enthusiastic about the prospect of a Cameron government. Say what you like about Mr Brown, he cannot be faulted for trying his utmost to change people's minds.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Shanghai  

Is Russia and China’s ‘Nato of the East’ more than a Potemkin alliance?

Nigel Morris
A petition calling for Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, to be included has been signed by nearly 200,000 people  

Let me list the reasons that the Green Party should definitely not be allowed into the TV election debates...

Mark Steel
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager