OPINION: Holiday season will give Brown a taste of power

For Tony Blair, the holidays can't come soon enough, but he even manages to screw up on the PR when it comes to his vacation.

This year, he and Cherie are off to Barbados to stay in Sir Cliff Richards's villa. They may have spun the yarn that they are making a donation to charity, but it still looks like a freebie to most people.

The Prime Minister should take a leaf out of Gerhard Schroeder's book.

The German Chancellor cancelled his holiday to Italy following insults against Germans from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Italian Tourism Minister Stefano Stefani. This act alone has put plenty of points on his popularity ratings, so why Blair continues to holiday exclusively abroad I just don't understand. It's almost certainly because Cherie insists on a foreign holiday that Blair snubs Britain, but with his poll ratings plummeting, it's about time he told his wife to stop behaving like a snob.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith isn't so daft. He is taking at least some of his holiday in Scotland, although, it has to be said, this must have something to do with his love of salmon fishing.

There is one Cabinet Minister, though, who isn't even bothering to have a holiday this year. Yes, you've guessed it - Gordon Brown. This fits in nicely with his workaholic image, but that isn't fair. He normally spends the whole of August in Cape Cod, but because of his wife's pregnancy they have decided to stay at home in Scotland.

The significant thing about Brown remaining in this country is that, for the first time since being in Government, the Chancellor will be in charge, because John Prescott will be away for a few weeks at the same time as the Prime Minister. This will be good news for Labour, since almost every time 'Two Jags' is left in charge, something goes wrong. Who could ever forget the memorable moment when he was photographed holding up a crab and telling us that it looked like Peter Mandelson?

Having the Iron Chancellor in charge makes sense because the Tories have decided that tax is going to be the main theme of their summer offensive.

Ever since Peter Hain decided to raise the tax issue, Conservative strategists have been working on their line of attack. I spoke to Peter Hain last week, before interviewing him on the radio about Iraq. He was furious with me about something nasty I had written in connection with his tax speech, or non-tax speech, as it turned out. He did, however, have the good grace to admit to me that it was quite right for Brown and Blair to make it clear that they were in charge of economic policy, not him.

The problem is that the damage has already been done, and the Tories have come out with their very clever new poster. This says 'Labour's weapon of self destruction' - in a bombshell, like their 1992 campaign - with income taking up to 61 per cent. This was a brilliant idea, spoilt a little by putting a figure of 61 per cent for the tax rise, because it is so obviously a lie. Brown would no doubt point out that he actually cut income tax in the last parliament, and at the moment he is in the mood to attack the Tories. Anyone who has seen the Chancellor over the past few weeks will testify to how good a mood he is in. At his party to celebrate 20 years as an MP, he even gave me a hug!

With Blair sunning himself in the Caribbean, Brown will be having his first taste of real power. And with the Prime Minister still in deep trouble at home, there is every chance that soon he will have it for a good deal longer. I bet Brown has a happier holiday than Blair.

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