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Columnists

Westmister Watch

BarrowBack in 1983, Labour's election manifesto called for substantial public ownership in the banking sector and a tax on capital flows. It went down as 'the longest suicide note in history'.


In 2009, a Labour government now owns a big stake in some of Britain's banks and the head of the Financial Services Authority has suggested that a levy might be needed to restrain the unproductive avarice of some of the City of London.

It's a topsy-turvy world. And if the upending of fiscal orthodoxies wasn't enough, Gordon Brown now seems to be attempting to scribe an even longer farewell note on his long, tortuous path to the next election, through a huge list of political miscalculations.

Even the damp non-news arena that is August proved territory of terror, thanks to something most of the world had never really heard of before: the Scottish government.
When the Scots justice secretary decided to allow a terminally ill prisoner, Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, to die at home rather than in jail, all hell broke loose. Compassion doesn't go down well when the political barometer is set to vengeance, and calling the bluff of 'Christian America' proved a vain hope.

At first, Downing Street aides thought it better to keep quiet, because the noise coming out of Washington would quickly die down. Wrong. Then the PM decided to 'respect the decision of the Scottish parliament' while denying complicity, thus avoiding any direct responsibility. Wrong again.
Whichever way he turns, the hapless Mr Brown seems to cause confusion and mockery. This is due as much to the herd mentality of the Westminster-focussed media as it is to the PM's attempts to nuance issues on which (like it or not) sweeping judgments are the order of the day.

The press has decided that Brown is a loser, and anything he does - good, bad, or indifferent - is now being interpreted through that lens. It's an unenviable position to be in, and leaves the government with two main hopes. The first is for a miracle of some kind, a rupture in the political fabric. The second is that people might finally recognise the cracks, flaws and thorns in David Cameron's telegenic niceness.

But even rogue Tories denouncing the NHS as a '60 year mistake' and Conservative councils boasting about running services 'like a budget airline' (as Barnet recently did) isn't producing a swing back to Labour.

Meanwhile, the third largest party are jumping up and down about youth crime, armed forces pay, why they would have thrown away the key to al-Megrahi's cell… anything to grab a little action. But instead the only Liberal Democrats people are talking about are the ones who have lost power in Japan for the first time since 1955.

So the die seems cast. The polls predict a 50-90 seat Conservative majority on or before next May. The script can still be re-written. But not by Whitehall advisers.