Wednesday, March 28, 2007


As the days have gone by it has become a little easier to judge the impact of Gordon Brown' last budget. In particular it reinforces the feeling at the time- that Brown had run rings around a lightweight Conservative leadership. While it is fair to say that the budget response speech is extraordinarily difficult, after all the opposition has no notice of the measures to be announced, and must respond pretty much off the cuff, the fact is that Cameron made three too many Stalinist jokes, but missed the whole point of the Chancellor's policy, he even believed that there had been tax cuts- when in fact the budget was revenue neutral. By contrast Ming Campbell was able to go straight to the point- the Chancellor had pulled a fast one: a masterly piece of politicking, but an indifferent practice of economics.

Despite their poll lead, the last month has shown just how shallow and confused the Conservative front bench has become. The unworkable gimmick of the frequent flyer tax, the confused approach to social policy, the lightweight response to the Budget. Even Cameron's hair parting seems to be randomly moving from right to left and back again. Peter Hitchens all guns blazing attack on Cameron in his Channel 4 Dispatches programme "Toff at the Top" , reflects the deep unease that conservatives have about the Old Etonian clique on the Tory front bench.

Brown may be psychologically flawed, but even his enemies concede that he is a heavyweight politician. Even though there is a growing sense in the country that the time for a change is upon us, the newCons are unconvincing. Cameron is in place only for as long as he looks like a winner, if that veneer is lost, then the bitterness amongst the Tory grass roots will re-emerge.

So what of the Liberal Democrats?

We are also attacked for our leader. Yet on this occasion he played a blinder: a forensic dissection of the half truths and illusions of the budget. Ming continues to foster a collegiate approach, unafraid of challenges to orthodoxy, even from the Lib Dem front bench. He has patiently fixed many of the problems of the party, and has been extremely successful at raising money. The Liberal Democrats are emerging from the turmoil of 2005 with a tougher and more disciplined ideology. The May elections may show a few more straws in the wind, but there are now some signs that far from 2005 having been a high water mark, it may in fact be a floor for the future.

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