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I ate in college last night, funnily enough getting the chance to talk to Prof Bogdanor about hung parliaments. Interesting stuff. Anyway, despite the awful wine and lamb that was over-done, discussion flowed and the conversation moved on to the PM. The general consensus was that he isn’t finished, though looking at polling today, that confidence may be overplaced.

I think this view is right though: Gordon Brown has been in office less than 12 months. The media generated hype at the beginning of his Premiership was as unrealistic as the media generated gloom that exists now. Events have played a large part of course: a lot of blame for the current predicament went to the Bank of England for providing the advice on not to bail out Northern Rock sooner and therefore compounding
the sense that the government was reacting to events rather than taking control of them. Again, I think this has some credibility: whilst the argument of moral hazard is fine for economists and theorists, in practical political terms no government could ever let a bank go down.

Events aside, I think that a large part of the problem is still of a presentational nature: as Simon Jenkins points out this morning, policy detail is not what voters want to hear right now. Rather, the government needs to show that they understand that the cost of fuel and food rising and that they are worried about their jobs and making the next mortgage payment. It still baffles me that cutting the base rate of income tax from 22% to 20% has been ignored in the wake of the 10% fiasco: if only we’d increased the personal allowance enough to negate the effect of abolishing the 10p band, I feel we’d be in a lot less trouble now.

Despite the need for better presentation, it is still heartening that the government still wants to end child poverty. James Purnell rightly acknowledges this as a unifying theme in Labour politics. To that I say lets get on with it then. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that it will take another £4bn to be committed before 2010 to stay on target: as someone who has argued for fiscal control elsewhere, I’m not about to call for an extra spending commitment. Rather, the sale of a few assets could generate that kind of income: privatising Scottish Water (£2bn), Glas Cymru (£1.5bn), and Northern Ireland Water (£1bn) would raise enough money. Offloading the government’s 30% stake in British Energy (£2bn) and the Commonwealth Development Corporation (£2bn) might even add enough money to give the low paid a one-off rebate before the next budget can put things right again.

So, whilst there may be trouble ahead, Labour still has office and as such it can still take control of the situation rather than being buffeted by the ill-winds of a global finacial slow-down (and a massive budgetary cock-up last year). The only question is, do we still have the will to face the music and dance?

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