Leading article: This week has shown that the election is far from over

Gordon Brown's fight-back demands a clear response from David Cameron

Related Topics

Suddenly the next general election seems much closer and the outline of the battle more clearly defined. This weekend marks the mid-point of perhaps the most significant fortnight in British politics since Gordon Brown bottled an early election two years ago. Next week the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, delivers his pre-Budget report and Gordon Brown attends the Copenhagen Summit on climate change. Surprisingly, though, the events of the last few days may prove to be at least as significant in shaping the divide between the parties.

Nick Clegg unveiled his party's bold tax proposals. A poll in The Independent suggested a hung Parliament was a distinct possibility. The next day Gordon Brown and David Cameron clashed in the liveliest Prime Minister's Questions since Mr Brown became Prime Minister. In between, both leaders delivered major speeches: Mr Brown on Afghanistan; Mr Cameron on excessive regulation.

The accumulated impact of this sequence is changing the dynamics of British politics. The change is not yet dramatic. The polls still show a substantial Conservative lead, and the Labour government remains deeply unpopular. Nonetheless, Mr Brown is showing signs of a striking fight-back in ways that raise profound questions about Mr Cameron and the party he leads.

Mr Brown will not get very far by reviving so-called "class warfare"; it also smacks of hypocrisy for a New Labour politician. But the point he raised on Wednesday about the candidacy of Zac Goldsmith and his non-domicile status was entirely valid. Does Mr Cameron believe a party that aspires to govern in difficult economic times should be represented by wealthy candidates who have done their best to avoid paying tax?

The contrast between Mr Brown's major speech this week and Mr Cameron's chosen theme was also marked. While Mr Brown outlined a strategy for Afghanistan, one that is flawed but could command support in the run-up to the election, Mr Cameron highlighted some poorly researched clichés about the impact on daily life of health and safety regulations. Indeed, Mr Cameron seems to have gone out of his way to please his new allies in the right-wing press with the development of a crude anti-state message, backed by glib assumptions that do not stand up to scrutiny. This is a foolish and wrong-headed strategy to pursue.

There was much speculation this week about whether Mr Brown is pursuing a "core vote" strategy. But the same question could be asked of Mr Cameron. He must decide what sort of leader he wants to be: one who speaks with confidence to a wider audience, as in his early phase as leader, or one who retreats into following in the footsteps of his recent predecessors.

Next week will be a big test for the Government, with both the Pre-Budget Report and the Copenhagen Summit. But it will be a defining moment too for Mr Cameron. Will he take on his party's army of climate change sceptics with specific green policies and support any attempts to get an agreement that will involve some tough policy measures in the UK? Will his and George Osborne's response to the Pre-Budget Report be more rounded than a shrill call for immediate cuts? Are they capable of coming up with tax policies as fair and as radical as those unveiled by the Liberal Democrats?

If Mr Cameron wants voters to believe that his party has changed, he needs to resolve these issues. He has left it late, and if he gets them wrong, the next election is far from over.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Chelsea players celebrate winning the Premier League title  

Success isn’t enough if you’re going to be boring

Simon Kelner

If I were Prime Minister: I'd save small businesses from the negative influence of banks

Anil Stocker
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power