BERNARD INGHAM: Time for a much needed energy-boost

Every year the Government prays for the end of July. August brings relief.

Every year the Government prays for the end of July. August brings relief.

September, the first month of a new political year, marks the return to problems, and 'events dear boy', which Harold Macmillan defined as obstacles in the way of his political progress in the early 1960s.

And so it has come to pass this year. It has led to David Davis, a senior Tory MP, complaining of lost Tory momentum.

Labour could not wait to see the back end of July after seven months of undiluted misery - apart from a buoyant economy and Gordon Brown's new spending spree. But they did not go into recess with the right mental attitude. Tony Blair was in high dudgeon over the prospect of family holiday snaps, drawing attention to another Tuscan freebie, and sons, Euan and Leo, and remained in a state of 'almost sadistic iciness' during it, according to the Italians.

His office then made an utter hash of handling Euan's big noise after a disco at 5am in an Italian hotel. Eventually, the Blairs decided to make the best of it when the French media ambushed them on the second leg of their holiday.

Meanwhile, we were all agog for Alistair Campbell's Government initiative every other day or so during the hazy, lazy days of August, and the prospect of Two Jags Prescott giving us his familiar clod-hopping performances as Prime Minister in locum tenens. Fortunately for Labour, they took my advice and squashed Mr Campbell's ridiculous proposed hyper-activity, and Mr Prescott, wisely, largely disappeared. They discovered the virtues of masterly high summer inactivity and start the final year of this Parliament with a poll lead of anything from 15-20 points. The next general election looks to be all over bar the shouting.

This raises the question of Mr Davis's criticism. I suspect he would not be unduly concerned if the Opposition took it easy (while not dropping any catches) during most Augusts. People do like a break from politics.

But last month was no ordinary August. It will be the last August before a general election in the Tories' view, since they think Mr Blair will want to combat any turn-out problem by having one grand local and national elections day next May - unless he decided to cut and run next month.

And Labour did not waste any ammunition the Tories gave them in August 1996, eight months before the last election.

Mr Davis has a point. The Tories had a lot going for them in the first half of this year. They were beginning, for the first time, to shape up as an opposition as Labour faltered. A party with few stars should never have eased up and let the Government, if only temporarily, off the hook.

The Conservatives' PR problem remains their apparent lack of energy and enthusiasm for Government.



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