Charlie Whelan: Brown cranks up the leadership machine

When Gordon Brown and his team finally launched a media offensive, we certainly knew about it. The Chancellor’s speech on ‘terror’ led the BBC news on Saturday and he didn’t even make it until Monday.

He was no doubt hoping to overshadow Labour's astonishing by-election defeat at the hands of the leaderless Lib Dems last week, in his own back yard.

Brown once told me that he 'hated Dunfermline' but admittedly that was with his football fan hat on because he's a passionate supporter of local rivals Raith Rovers. Now he has further reason. 

Interestingly, until the result actually came through, the by-election went largely unnoticed in England, which partly explains the hysteria from the London-based political commentators who, without exception, failed to predict the result.   

Brown took the brunt of the criticism to the delight of hardline Blairites. The truth of the defeat however lies in the Byzantine nature of Scottish politics.

Unbelievably, Brown was only at the eleventh hour made aware of the potential damage to Labour from a proposed hike in tolls over the Forth road bridge. And when Brown moved to intervene to reassure local residents, what did the Labour First Minister in Scotland do?  He said Brown was interfering – and it was the Scottish Executive that decided such important matters. No wonder Labour lost.

Contrast this with the Lib Dems who, despite current travails, are masters of fighting on local issues.

So without further ado Brown officially launched his leadership bid at the end of last week. He is keen to have a 'real' leadership election to give him the chance to spell out his own distinct policies.

His PR team has given a string of stories to the nationals, outlining policies which appear distinctly right wing – for example, the Daily Mail's splash on Monday about Brown expanding the school cadet programme.

Indeed he is doing everything he can to goad someone on the left to stand against him. In Brown's view he needs a 'mandate' to lead the party, and a fight with the left will allow him to prove that he isn't a 'roadblock to reform' as David Cameron claims.

His other tactic is to stand squarely behind Tony Blair. The two haven't made another deal – Brown still distrusts him – but the Chancellor won't upset the PM in case it makes him stay in office longer.

And despite press reports Brown has not called on the services of Alastair Campbell, whom he trusts little more than Blair. No, it is his own tight team that has begun the long-term offensive against the real enemy – David Cameron.

charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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