Labour due a health check

So, what shape are the government and opposition in at the start of the summer recess? Political editor Chris Fisher subjects them to a health check, in keeping with Mr Blair's latest theme.

So, what shape are the government and opposition in at the start of the summer recess? Political editor Chris Fisher subjects them to a health check, in keeping with Mr Blair's latest theme.

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As he prepared and delivered his big speech on “healthy living”, it should have occurred to the prime minister that a political health check on him and his government would produce some poor results.

For a start, they are carrying quite a few stones of useless and dangerous flab in the person of John Prescott. Many people - some of them genuinely worried for the welfare of the government - keep telling Mr Blair that he must cease this crazy indulgence and sack the DPM. But will he listen? No he won't.

Mr Blair's real health problems contributed to his declaration in September 2004 that he would not seek a fourth term in office. In the opinion of many that decision did nothing for his political health. Be that as it may, he is plainly a long way past his prime, and is now widely seen as a lame duck.

Would an imminent retirement announcement be a kindness to him as well as much of the electorate? He doesn't give any indication of seeing it that way. Instead, there is an apparently firm reluctance to let go. Maybe it really is all about securing his policy legacy, and especially in terms of reform of the key public services. Maybe he just can't give it up.

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He will soon be sunning himself in the Caribbean. Once he's out there, the idea of returning to Downing Street might lose all of its appeal. Maybe an announcement will come out of the blue that he's stepping down. But it doesn't look that way. All the signs are that after a brief break, the nation will be subjected to another wave of speculation about the timing of his departure, and his replacement by Gordon Brown, as Labour gears up for its annual conference in September in Manchester.

This year has been more than a little grim for the government. It has taken a great battering over various issues concerning the Home Office, and particularly the debacle over foreign prisoners. And the 'cash for peerages' allegations have helped greatly to create a perception in the minds of many electors that it is as sleazy, if not more so, than the Tories in the mid-1990s.

Can it be restored to good, election-winning, health when Mr Brown moves into No 10? Maybe. It has many problems. Some facets of its behaviour - like struggling to ensure that elementary processes work in Whitehall - suggest that it is not merely ageing but in serious decline.

The lugubrious chancellor is not obviously a man to rejuvenate it. But his record of presiding over growth and low inflation over the past decade has won him much respect, and that it is that record more than anything that has kept Labour in office. How bad would the polls be for the government now if the economy were not in generally good shape?

As the Commons went into its summer recess it was Tory MPs who had the biggest spring in their step. Since he became their leader David Cameron has given them reason to believe that they on their way out of the wilderness. But removing yourself from such a place can take many years. The Conservatives will have to build substantially on the progress already made, and greatly extend over the next couple of years the lead they have created in the polls, if they are to win the next general election. A hung parliament looks a much better bet at the present.

The Liberal Democrats have rediscovered some of their optimism thanks to improved Commons performances by Sir Menzies Campbell and the Bromley by-election. Their tax proposals have also given the Tories something to think about. But their conference, also in September, could still be quite a trial for their leader.