The shot putter's final throw


After schools, houses, electoral reform and the future of the human race, it’s time for a bit of politics to finish off the week; time also for one of my famous incredibly contrived analogies. Gordon Brown is in the position of an Olympic shot putter who has had two no-throws.

At the beginning of the competition his supporters thought he was a real contender – that’s why he was selected. Now, given the performance so far of his main opponent in the competition, not many people think he can win. But he has to get his third round throw right or else he won’t even be there at the finish. Fortunately for him, he has conditions on his side.

OK, enough of the analogy. The bad news for Gordon Brown is that his ministers and MPs could still force a terminal leadership crisis in the autumn if things haven’t improved for Labour. By that time three aspects of the case made for the Prime Minister two weeks ago will have gone:

• The argument that a change of leadership will force an early election; GB himself will only have seven months left and a new leader could anyway say the first realistic time for an election would be spring

• The argument that better news on the economy will improve the polls will to some extent have been tested

• Those who turned against GB in the autumn could argue that they had stayed loyal for as long as could reasonably be asked.

But the good news for GB is that there are several reasons why his position may improve:

• MPs’ expenses will eventually stop being a big story

• There will be the steady flow of better economic news and international praise for his recession strategy

• Over the next two or three weeks the Government is unveiling several big policy statements with the aim of demonstrating it still has an agenda

• Governments generally improve their poll rating over the summer recess simply because people are in a good mood and are less likely to read newspapers or think about politics

• Labour conference will be a carefully choreographed pre-election rally

• And, finally, GB has his final Queen’s Speech to make commitments and draw dividing lines. He might still, for example, respond to growing public and cabinet pressure and pledge a polling day referendum on electoral reform.

So, all in all, the odds are on the veteran competitor throwing far enough to make the final. But he’ll stay nervous until he does, and, of course, making the final and winning it are two very, very different things.

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