Opinion: Brown will hold the trump cards in 2007

As the political pundits publish their assessments of the Tory leader's first year in office, they were equally turning their attention to assessing the next prime minister's performance this week.

When Gordon Brown gave his final Pre-Budget Report (PBR) on Wednesday, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, received his usual mauling, but it is David Cameron who was firmly in the Chancellor's sights as we head into a new year.

Brown's PR team was more aware than usual of the need for a top performance, but knows it holds all the trump cards. Whereas this time last year Brown was forced to admit that his predictions for the economy had been wrong, this year they look better than forecast. Stronger economic growth also means he has more to give away.

The Chancellor's line has been to contrast his record and plans for the future with Cameron's lack of experience and his economic commission's ‘half baked' tax plans. For example: ‘What I won't do is to cut tax for share transactions that take from the poor and give to the rich.'

I have heard some of Cameron's more enthusiastic supporters claim that after Blair, Brown will be easy meat for the Tory leader. But they should remind themselves that the only reason Gordon Brown has grabbed the headlines this week is because he came up with the idea of making a yearly PBR statement. It gives the Chancellor the chance to shine in two major parliamentary events a year instead of just one.

More significantly, the idea of opening up discussion on the budget means the days of budget secrecy are gone. At first this idea horrified treasury mandarins, especially as I openly leaked budget details. But they got on board when they realised more media coverage was generated by not having every-thing reaching the media in one go. Of course, big surprises were always held back for the big day, just as they were for this year's PBR.

For some time Brown's strategy has been to contrast his ‘substance' to Cameron's ‘style' - and it is starting to work. Brown appears to be ahead of Cameron as the person who most people think will make the best PM. The same polls may show the Tories ahead of Labour, but nothing like enough to give them much hope of winning the next election.

While the rest of us take a long seasonal break, Brown will spend time planning his first year as prime minister. Cameron, meanwhile, will need to find yet more new ­initiatives to grab headlines. This is what makes opposition so much harder than government.   
charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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