Gordon Brown is in trouble

Dateline 21 November 2007

There is no doubt that British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is in trouble.

After ten years as Chancellor (Treasury Secretary) and effectively (but not formally) Tony Blair’s Deputy, he finally took over the top job in June. To refresh the government he cleared out some of Blair’s top allies and moved almost every surviving cabinet minister to a new post. It worked. The government looked new for a while. He managed to look appropriately serious in the face of natural disasters such as summer floods and farm animal disease scares. He was popular. Speculation about an early election reached fever pitch.

Then, suddenly, it all began to fall apart. Opposition Leader, David Cameron, wowed his party, the media, and the public with a remarkable speech to the Conservative Party Conference. The opinion polls showed Labour’s lead had disappeared. Brown announced there would be no early election after all. No problem. Labour has a comfortable majority and no election is required until 2010.

Then came the run on Northern Rock bank. There has not been a bank run for 140 years. The public was prepared to regard this as a misfortune, though one of Brown’s first actions as Chancellor was to change the way banking regulation is overseen. The cost of bailing out Northern Rock has escalated, and may continue to do so. A second bank run would undoubtedly reflect badly on the government and, of course, on the Chancellor who changed the regulations.

Brown’s Home (Interior) Secretary has had to admit that all the government’s immigration estimates were hopelessly wrong. The Home Office seems to be the worst job in government. Jackie Smith, the current incumbent is a bit of a light weight, but she follows three Labour heavyweights who were successively brought down by leaks about incompetence.

And now the Treasury has apparently mislaid computer disks which contain confidential personal details of 25 million people. The data include names, addresses, dates of birth, even banking details. Though, since 60% of the people named in the records are children, presumably banking details only apply to a minority. There is simply no information as to what has happened to the data. But, as you can imagine, millions of people are changing banking PIN numbers – especially those that relate to dates of birth. The information would be a goldmine for identity thieves.

Nick Assinder, political correspondent at the BBC, has already stated that he thinks the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, is on “borrowed time”. But this is problematic. The data was being transferred to London following a request by the National Audit Office. But the NAO requested the information in March. Alistair Darling was not Chancellor in March. Gordon Brown was. Darling has only ever been seen as a place holder for Brown, who was determined to carry on managing the Treasury himself. Furthermore, commentators have suggested that the cause of the problem was a decision to merge the Inland Revenue with the Customs and Excise service. This decision, also, was taken before Darling became Chancellor.

The government’s flagship policy to fight terrorism – a national identity card – is now in tatters. Who would trust the government to run such a scheme? Overnight support for the plan fell from 60% to 29% and opposition grew from 26% to 55%. Ouch!

Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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