Monday, October 22, 2007

Brown on the wrong side of big issues

There is a rule in politics; try to avoid giving issues to your opponents. What this means is that significant matters of concern to key communities, keep on the right side of the argument, or at least make it hard for your opponents to get into a more popular position that you. Tony Blair was very good at this, on things like taxation or the future of the health service where he made it difficult for anyone to draw a sharp divide with Labour by allowing them to champion a more appealing way forward. Gordon Brown does not have this skill, and he has handed two big ones over to the Conservatives in his short stay in power. The first is Capital Gains Tax, where Labour's 'tax simplification' agenda has managed to array all four of the UK's main business organisations against them. It is a pretty difficult feat to get the representatives of business of every size, from window-cleaners to multinationals, up in arms on the same issue, but Labour has managed it. The Conservatives have come down for lower CGT and get an issue of huge importance to the nations business community. Smart politics from Labour it is not. Then there is the European Reform Treaty, or constitution by any other name. Here Labour's line that this is a new treaty that is unrelated to the old and that Britain's 'Red Lines' will be inviolate is bought by the Independent, who these days just print government press releases anyway, but by no-one else. Again the Conservatives get the issue and they are campaigning vigorously on a platform that has the support of most of the media and around 80% of the population. Brown should never have let it come to this and his microscopic political talents are in danger of leaving his party looking like it is being unpopular on purpose. This is not a wise strategy in any system that involves reasonably free and fair elections.

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