OPINION: Christmas break goes in Brown's favour

When I recommended that the Prime Minister should take a long holiday break and come back from Scotland refreshed, even I did not expect this strategy to prove so successful.

Whelan: 'being ahead in the polls is one thing, but staying there is quite another'
Whelan: 'being ahead in the polls is one thing, but staying there is quite another'

Without uttering one word over Christmas, except to make comment on the political situation in Pakistan, his Labour Party ratings have improved by a massive seven per cent in opinion polls.

I am not suggesting that Gordon Brown has to do nothing to win the next election but the festive break goes to show just how volatile the polls are and proves that all is still to play for.

The PM has certainly decided to hit the ground running in the New Year, with a series of media appearances and fresh policy announcements.

For those of us who enjoy the political fray it should be a great year. David Cameron will have had a reasonably restful break but he will know that being ahead in the polls is one thing, staying there is quite another.

It is likely that the Tories are hoping for an economic downturn, though they will have learned the lesson of not blaming the Labour Party if it comes. Cameron has to be careful not to talk down the economy, especially as pictures of him skulking behind Norman Lamont as the economy crashed are still on file.

Brown, who was shadow chancellor at the time of Black Wednesday, will not let Cameron forget where he was. The economy will never be Cameron's strongest hand.

Vince Cable, the Lib Dems' economic spokesman, is likely to have more success at getting under Brown's skin over the economy, especially after his widely reported success as temporary leader.

Everyone will be waiting to see if new Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will be half as good at the dispatch box as Cable was. It is important for him to make his mark outside the Westminster village.

If opinion polls stay the same, the question that Clegg will have to answer is what happens if there is a hung parliament after the next election?

It is a question Clegg should refuse to answer so he can maintain the position of attacking both the Tories and Labour equally. The Tories, however, are the Lib Dems' main enemy because it is they who threaten most of their MPs' seats.

If there is a hung parliament Cameron may regret the silly stunt of calling Clegg to join him in a 'progressive alliance' against Brown.

At the same time, the PM personally called the new Lib Dem leader to congratulate him on his victory. Who would you rather go into coalition with?

charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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