None of this will stop people asking how the Prime Minister and his team got into such a mess. When I say ‘people’ I really mean the Westminster Village people, a group that is always much more interested in process than policy.
In Bournemouth even I was astonished at the insatiable appetite for political soap opera; the problem for the PM was that the Blair-Brown soap was over and a new one was needed. Given the complete lack of stories at the Labour conference it became the ‘will there or won’t there be an election’ soap.
It is easy to be wise after the event, as all the political commentators seem to be, but I don’t recall any of them predicting that a failure to call an election would hit Gordon Brown hard.
Team Brown can be consoled by the fact that, outside Westminster, election fever was virtually non-existent. Indeed where I live in Scotland there was positively no desire for yet another election.
The newspapers most people read weren’t that interested either. By my reckoning, coverage of the Diana inquest outdid the election by about 20-1.
So where does the political soap go now? Brown’s media conference was a smart move as it allowed eager hacks to let off steam and then move on. The PM has certainly moved to give them new stories. First, we had a statement on Iraq and then back to the real meat of politics, the economy.
The Chancellor’s pre-Budget statement cannot be dismissed as a gimmick and will set the tone for the real election when it takes place the year after next.
The Tories are triumphant – for now – but I can’t help feeling that their euphoria will be shortlived. I can understand why David Cameron feels so satisfied with himself but his response to the Prime Minister’s difficulties bordered on hysterical.
The Tories claim that their new tax policies were always planned at this year’s conference insults our intelligence. While they may have prevented an early election and certain defeat, they are so flaky that they are unlikely to last in their present form.
For the political classes the past few weeks have been tremendous fun. The media were plugging an early election because they wanted one – they’d like one every year. Most of us wouldn’t, and that’s why Brown may be wounded but certainly not killed off.