OPINION: The new PM is feeling ever more cautious

‘I blame your pal Gordon Brown,’ a local farmer chortled as I picked up the daily papers in the village shop the day after the foot-and-mouth outbreak was confirmed.

Whelan: ‘It is too early to tell how the crisis will pan out, but Brown will not risk an election unless he is sure he can win it’
Whelan: ‘It is too early to tell how the crisis will pan out, but Brown will not risk an election unless he is sure he can win it’

The same bloke blamed the PM for the floods, too, and is a fully signed-up member of the puerile British ‘blame culture’.

The new Prime Minister is now into his third ­crisis, so far escaping blame. And, if the sentiments of a chap picking up his Daily Mail at the same time are anything to go by, my old boss is doing OK. ‘No, no,’ he said to the farmer, ‘Brown has acted quickly and deci­sively.’ It is still too early to tell exactly how the latest crisis will pan out for the Prime Minister, but there is one thing I do know: Brown will not risk an early election unless he is sure he can win it.

The thing I remember most about my time working for Brown was his considered response to the challenge of standing for the Labour leadership ­after the tragic death of John Smith. He clearly could have beaten Tony Blair in a leadership ­election, but he wanted to be sure of winning. He wasn’t, so he didn’t stand.

All the current talk of an early election is just that – talk. Sure there has been a ‘Brown bounce’. But it is only after a sustained lead in the polls that the Prime Minister will consider calling an election.

The man given the task of writing Labour’s manifesto, Ed Milliband, made a rare appearance on Radio 4’s The World At One last week, and he couldn’t have been clearer. ‘It is important that we don’t get carried away with the polls,’ he wisely told the listeners.

Even more important is learning the lessons of the past. Just as the Government has learned from the last foot-and-mouth outbreak, so Brown has learned just how volatile a modern electorate can be. He has only to look back at the fuel ­crisis in New Labour’s first term to see how fortunes can change. An election then would have seen Labour out of office, just as it would had Blair not delayed the election the last time foot-and-mouth disease hit Britain.

The present outbreak may not be so bad for the Government, but it will make Brown even more cautious about calling an early election. The Prime Minister’s other key concern will be the state of the opposition, and he knows that, come the conference season, the Tories will regroup.

They have few other options.

Poor old David Cameron has had to delay his departure on holiday because Brown came back from his. It’s good to see, though, that his fellow Tory MPs have taken my advice and put a Brown biography at the top of their holiday reading list.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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