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Columnists

Westminster watch

Simon Barrow

Home is where the government is. Since becoming prime minister, Gordon Brown has fended off accusations of 'kitchen cabinet' government with remarkable ease. He has done so mainly by putting some of those who previously sat round the hearth into the real cabinet and gathering a new galley crew.

But not all has been so smooth in the political household. Last month chief aide Spencer Livermore resigned after almost a decade as a member of the Brown team, following alleged spats about the reorganisation of the political machinery. The usual accusations and denials followed.

Mr Brown issued a glowing tribute to Mr Livermore, spicing it with a remark that effortlessly illustrates the true power that PR specialists have now gained in Downing Street. 'I know that [he] will continue to play a major role with his new company in helping Labour to a fourth terms of government.'

The company concerned is advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and Fallon, successors to the team that scored Margaret Thatcher's greatest PR successes with 'Labour isn't working' and 'Labour's tax bombshell'. Not only are the two leading parties swapping policies, they are also aping each other's corporate manoeuvres.

Stephen Carter, Mr Brown's new chief of strategy and principal adviser, has run financial PR giants Brunswick (which once employed the PM's wife), as well as Ofcom, NTL and J Walter Thompson. David Muir, director of political strategy and friend of Tory counterpart Steve Hilton, cut a swathe at advertising specialists WPP. Damian McBride, communications adviser, is a 'spin' specialist with a good working knowledge of Whitehall. Jeremy Haywood, permanent secretary at No 10, has worked in the city as well as the civil service.

The pattern is that those who are newest have less political experience and more in media and PR. In part this may be to compensate for the perception that while Tony Blair, accompanied by Alastair Campbell, was seen as PR savvy, Brown is less so. Or at least that he is up against opponents, in David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who have strong media-handling components to their backgrounds.

Indeed, it is becoming more difficult to imagine a major political figure who is not cut of this cloth. Labour's disastrous 1983 election campaign was not just down to a manifesto dubbed 'the longest suicide note in history', but to a leader, the intellectually and morally robust Michael Foot, whose compelling set-piece oratory disguised a man, and a party, fatally out of touch with the way modern communications works.

The danger now is that things have swung too far in the opposite direction, so that any idea, policy or message with 'too many wrinkles in it' (let alone a messenger with the same, or a beard) is written off before anyone has even added tick boxes. Here's another mould ripe for breaking, if anyone really wants to be bold.