Opinion: Cameron and Brown are stuck in limbo

North Korea tests a nuclear bomb, prisons are full up and fresh diary revelations are published from a sacked minister. With the party conference season over, reality returned to Westminster this week.

During their conferences, the three main parties failed to make good use of their free airtime. The Lib Dems paraded their new/old leader; Labour couldn't keep the row over Tony Blair's successor off the news; and David Cameron failed to sparkle.

So where does this leave everyone? Cameron still has to prove that he is not all style and no substance while at the same time holding back his policies until Gordon Brown takes over. His conference speech failed to do it and his first post-conference attempt was blown out of the water - literally - by the Korean nuclear explosion. The Tory leader did announce plans for his NHS Independence Bill, but given that the Chancellor had proposed something similar a week before, perhaps he was lucky to be saved from ridicule.

At least Cameron can bask in the glory of a Sunday Telegraph poll that showed more people think he would make a better PM than Brown.

The Chancellor has some difficult months ahead of him as he waits for Blair to go. He is in a Cameron-like limbo. He wants to promote himself, but can't reveal all his new policy ideas until the PM has gone. So far his attempts to give himself a makeover seem to have failed, but I still think that the more the nation sees of the real Brown, the more it will like him - providing there are no more silly stunts to soften his image, such as revealing his literary tastes at the Cheltenham book festival.

If the Telegraph poll upset the Chancellor, he would have been cheered by John Reid's problems. Just as the Blairites were talking him up as a possible leadership challenger, the problem of full-up prisons erases all memory of his excellent conference speech. The hacks don't mention it because it would spoil a good story, but leadership candidates require 44 MPs to nominate them. Reid will be lucky to get four.

Another once tipped to become leader is David Blunkett. Presumably he's short of cash because he's sold his diary to a couple of newspapers. Politicians flogging their stories when the government they served is still in office is a new trend, though in this case not that damaging - Labour cabinet falls out, shock horror.

The only diary that Labour will worry about is the PM's. With his massive mortgage, this ­explosive tome could come soon after he retires. Now that could really ­affect the outcome of the next ­election.
charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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