Opinion: Cameron and Brown retreat from front line

The two politicians who will battle it out for the premiership at the next general election - David Cameron and Gordon Brown - have come back from their summer holidays with PR guns blazing, but little in the way of new content.

The Tory leader has obviously decided to take little notice of right-wing critics within his party. His first media foray for the autumn political season saw him grab the headlines in the most left-wing Sunday paper (The Observer) by attacking Margaret Thatcher, even if all he said was that it was wrong of the Iron Lady to call Nelson Mandela a terrorist (hardly controversial really). With the polls going his way, Cameron clearly feels he needs more of the same.

After all, as his shadow chancellor George Osborne showed last week, hard policy decisions mean a rockier road. Whatever possessed Osborne to hint that the first Tory tax cut would be abolishing stamp duty on share trading, benefiting only the very rich? At least his boss now knows it was a PR shambles and will be quietly dropped.

As will plans to abolish inheritance tax, which, fortunately for the Tories, were recently brought up by arch-Blairite Stephen Byers. The way this was attacked by even the Chancellor's friends - including the media ‘revelation' that only 37,000 people paid it last year - will surely mean the end of Byers' idea.

Tax and the economy will once again be the killer issues at the next election, and Gordon Brown knows it.

So his return from a month's silence was to pen a cautious piece for the Financial Times, insisting that pay rises remain below two per cent, and to talk of the Bank of England being ‘pre-emptive'.

Instead he left it to new Treasury minister Ed Balls to tell the Labour Party on the Today programme that there should be an ‘orderly transition' of power, while sticking the knife firmly into Byers.

And, as before we went away, the leader in most trouble is Sir Menzies Campbell. The revelation this week that he helped cover up Charlie Kennedy's drink problem will hurt him more than the former leader, who the public still like for seeming to be a ‘normal bloke'.

Cameron and Brown will be spending many hours this autumn trying to look like ‘normal blokes', though don't expect the Chancellor to be seen snapped in flowery swimwear or erecting a windmill at 11 Downing Street. But, equally, don't expect Cameron to talk about endogenous growth theory.
charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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