Gordon Brown has faced a turbulent first week as Prime Minister. As well as the natural complications of appointing a government, he has faced major terrorist threats, floods, and an industrial dispute. So how well has he done in his first examination?
Hard to resist the week is a long-time in politics cliché . Within days of taking over as PM from Tony Blair, Gordon has introduced his long-planned appointments of his lieutenants. These are as widespread as might have been expected. This is consistent with his message in his first public statements that he will deliver a number of changes. He is directly challenging David Cameron, the fresh but inexperienced Conservative champion who also presents himself as the leader who will bring change.
So far so planned. But within that first week Brown also had to deal with three terrorist incidents, two in London, and one at Glasgow international airport. The floods that engulfed parts of Yorkshire then spread to other parts of England and Wales.
So the new Prime Minister and his new Home Secretary Jaquie Smith faced an induction examination. What would they do about the terrorists and the floods. My selected test question for Gordon was to see how he would deal with the postal workers’ twenty-four hour strike last Friday. But that didn’t even get on the examination paper.
The new Government faces a different kind of tactic from the terrorists in mainland Britain. Load up large cars with propane gas cylinders and with petrol (gasoline). Add a detonation device and an optional payload of nails. Target high-profile locations.
For whatever reasons, all three car-bombs failed to function as intended. Hundreds of people escape annihilation.
The security arrangements also survived the disruption at the top of Government. The specific response is to place the country on the highest security footing, ‘critical’, implying that a security threat has been assessed as both probable and imminent.
A little local story
As it happened, I was driving Susan to the airport in Manchester, earlier this (sunday) morning, and had a chance to become caught up in the security arrangements. Roads to terminals were blocked by police vehicles. Security personnel in their yellow dayglos were diverting cars through a series of chicanes. Straggling lines of passengers hauling luggage were pressing ahead on foot towards the arrival halls. I was waved on, and my passenger headed off, with the unenviable prospects of delays at Manchester, and on the next leg of her journey at Heathrow. [Subsequent report: all went as well as might be expected under the circumstances].
Gordon speaks to the Nation
In a formal televised statement the Prime Minister was brief and cogent. I found myself comparing his performance with what we might have expected from recently-departed Tony Blair. For me, he did pretty well. Quite different to TB’s favored style, although Blair’s famous theatrical adaptability might also have produced a good performance. But the circumstances probably favored reassurances from a dour serious man. Tony might have been more empathic, but maybe it’s not always an advantage to be chockfullacharisma …
What the polls say
Can’t get away from it. The leader who appears calm in face of a threat to the people scores political brownie points. If so, it comes as a bonus on top of what the columnists are calling The Brown bounce, a nice little climb in the opinion polls, up to 39%, and ahead of the conservatives (at 35%) for the first time since last May’s elections.
Crude percentage points in opinion polls are (as usual) misleading. Labour’s gains after Blair have come about mostly because less committed voters have drifted towards labour from other parties, including the Lib Dems (down 3 at 18%). The conservatives, while less than ecstatic, have even gained a (non-statistically significant) percentage point over the figures by the same pollsters for the Guardian a month ago. It’s still all to play for.
But to go with another cliché, the momentum seems to be with the new new boy Gordon, over the old new boy David, and particularly over the older new boy Ming.