The week in Westminster

The week in Westminster
The week in Westminster

You sometimes end up feeling sorry for them.

Just for a moment there are flashes of light in Gordon Brown's tenure, and then something really horrible happens again.

It was like that again this week. PMQs went really rather well, with people in the office turning to each other afterwards and whispering, in rather surprised tones: "I think he might have actually won that one." He was helped by a pedantic and actually pretty dodgy line of questioning from the usually brilliant David Cameron on Labour's link to the unions, but Mr Brown appeared more confident and effective than he has been for a long time.

And then there was the planning bill. Days before the vote people were predicting a Commons defeat, or worse, the kind of shabby, authority-draining victory he grabbed on 42-day detention. Instead, after a series of carefully formulated concessions, the bill passed easily.

Yes, he upset the green lobby, which just lost a considerable amount of power when it comes to halting nuclear plant construction and the like. And yes, he upset a lot of rural campaigners, who could no longer carry out their battles in quite the same way they did before. But the important thing was he won. A defeat, or another example of him relying on other parties to win, would have meant another few days with of wrist-slitting headlines.

Ms Harman's equality bill annoyed a lot of people - some of whom had misunderstood what was being proposed and some of whom hadn't - but it could help shore up the party's core support. At a Fabian Society reception last week, Ms Harman put equality, as is her habit, at the centre of the argument for the government's radical personality. All significant equality measures over the last decades had come from Labour, she said, apart from Section 28, which came from the Tories.

And then Mr Brown's anniversary in power came, and about an hour into it the Conservatives gave him a really ugly present. The party had sunk to fifth place, below the Greens and the BNP. Read that last sentence again, because it really is an awful, awful thing.

The truth was, there never was a reason for Labour to be happy this week. They won the planning bill, but only by alienating environmentalists in favour of the business community, who will by-and-large vote Tory anyway. And while some lefty Labour supporters will be pleased with Ms Harman's watered down equality paper, there are many more people around middle England who will fume with anger at what they see as another brutal wave of politically correct state interference in their day-to-day lives.

So, all in all, a typical week for Mr Brown and Labour. Trying to please everyone, but ending up pleasing some people too little in the name of irritating others too much. And then a nice little electoral disaster to round things off. You really do feel sorry for them sometimes. But never that sorry.

Ian Dunt


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