How much change has Brown brought about?

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor The prime minister has had a good honeymoon so far, and it’s getting better. But, says political editor CHRIS FISHER, don’t expect an autumn general election

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

Gordon Brown will travel to the US tomorrow - for his first meeting as prime minister with President Bush - with a big and still-growing opinion poll lead in his pocket.

According to a YouGov poll in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, the 'Brown bounce' has now extended to a nine-point advantage over the Conservatives. The basic figures are: Labour 41pc, Tories 32, Liberal Democrats 16. This is landslide territory - and very close to the voting shares in the 1997 and 2001 general elections.

So far, then, a very good honeymoon. Mr Brown has won a good many plaudits for his stewardship in his first month as PM, and the Conservatives have limped into parliament's summer recess in some disarray.


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How has this happened? By a combination of astuteness on Mr Brown's side and errors on David Cameron's.

There has been a bombardment of announcements and initiatives from Mr Brown since his appointment as premier. On Wednesday alone there were 46 government statements to parliament. Many of them were of little consequence. And the same can be said of some of the other policy statements that have emerged in the past month. The rail white paper, for example. It might have pointed in the right direction, but did it really take us any further forward? And what about Mr Brown's statement to the Commons on constitutional reform? As I watched him unveil it I thought it very significant and possibly even historic. But on re-reading it I quickly concluded that there was actually very little to it.

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The prime minister has managed, however, to create an impression of being extremely busy, and there is also a picture of great earnestness. He is by nature a very serious man, and there was a fear in Labour circles that there would be too much gravitas for the liking of the man-in-the-street. But so far it seems to be going down very well. It is possible that after all the showbiz of the Blair years, the typical elector wants something more solid and straight, and that Mr Brown is in tune with the national mood.

This brings me to the subject of spin. Tony and the Blairites became absolutely notorious for it, and it did them great damage. Mr Brown watched this unfolding over many years, and is determined not to make the same mistake.

Word has gone out to his ministers and aides that they must play everything straight - or at least look as if that is what they are doing. And so far they have largely maintained the appearance of a culture of anti-spin. But is it spin pretending to be its antithesis?

Whatever it is, can it be kept going for a long time? It was Mr Brown who inflicted his former spinner Charlie Whelan on the nation. And anyone who has had to analyse one of his budgets knows he is a top political conjuror.

His great buzzword since becoming PM is "change". He has created a new atmosphere at Westminster. He has made some changes to the structure of government, and has been rather smart in composing his cabinet. But in terms of the substance of policy, how much change has there been?

None worth talking about in economic policy, and that was fully to be expected. He didn't impose his will at the Treasury for 10 years in order to have things changed by his successor.

Moreover, though he allowed international development secretary Douglas Alexander and foreign minister Lord Malloch Brown to send some anti-Bush messages to those in Labour ranks who wanted to receive them, there appears to have been no real change on the most contentious foreign policy issue - Iraq.

Yes, Mr Brown is moving towards the removal of British troops. But that was happening anyway. Furthermore he committed himself to the modernisation of the Trident independent nuclear deterrent long ago, and this week's announcement about two new aircraft carriers also sends out a strong message about his attitude to defence.

Similar signals have been emitted regarding terrorism in Britain - which raised its ugly head in London and Glasgow not many hours after his premiership had begun. He has put new emphasis on winning 'hearts and minds' in the Muslim community. But as was shown in his statement this week, he is also committed to making this country more difficult to get into - by, for example, subjecting everyone to electronic screening at airports - and he wants to go beyond the current 28-day maximum for detaining a terror suspect without charge.

Mr Cameron has not recovered from the furore inside his party about grammar schools, and doubts about him have been increased over the past week by the by-election results in Southall and Sedgefield and by his poorly-timed trip to Rwanda.

It might be considered unfortunate that floods hit this country and his own constituency just as he was about to travel to Africa. But it was surely simple bad planning for him to go at the start of this week when parliament was still sitting, when he could have gone next week.

Not a lot should be made of the 'maybe Cameron should go' muttering. Who else is there? William Hague? Well he doesn't even want the job.

The same applies to the Lib Dems. Sir Menzies Campbell is disappointing many in his party, but who could do better. They are hardly spoilt for choice.

So Mr Brown can afford to feel bouncy. But it doesn't mean there will be a 'snap' poll in the autumn. A lead of about 10 points will need to be maintained through August and September for it to become a serious possibility.

The prime minister is unlikely to be thinking about going to the country before next spring - when the parliament will still be only three years old. Labour's poll lead is likely to peak and go into decline long before then.

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