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Sunday 11 October 2009

Cam 'n' Sam love-in adds to misery for Brown

Just when the Labour leader thought he was safe, it all went horribly wrong, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

The compassionate should bleed for poor Gordon Brown. On Thursday, he had a terrible afternoon: there was the betrayal by Bono, the sighting of a hated ghost, the shock of the despised enemy moving policy tanks onto his Downing Street lawn, an attack on his record and judgement that must have had Downing Street staff ducking for cover from flying staplers and mobile phones, and, to cap it all, when he most needed love, four hours till midnight arguing inconclusively with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness about the devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland, hardly on his priority list.

And he had thought things were going so well.

Brown hates the Tories so much that he believes that any setback for them will prove to the country how evil they are. He will have hugged himself over several developments at their party conference.

On Monday there was the rollicking speech by London mayor Boris Johnson, lately seen playing himself in EastEnders, which brought a chortling audience to its feet (sample gag: "Once again it is up to us to sort out the usual disastrous Labour legacy -- the damnosa hereditas, as we say in Walford"). Boris went way off-message by defending bankers, being more Euro-sceptic than the leadership thinks wise, and feeding the belief that he is a challenger to that other Old Etonian, David Cameron. Allegedly, as he waved to the cameras from the train, he received a text from Tory HQ that had hardly one printable word in it.

On Tuesday, there was George Osborne, telling the country that as Tory Chancellor, he would take harsh decisions and there would be tax rises and substantial cuts in public spending.

He was unrelievedly serious and gave ammunition to Labour allegations that Tories love slashing and burning for its own sake and would plunge the country into a worse recession.

Brown, who has been assuring the electorate that he can spend the taxpayers' way out of recession, will have hugged himself and ridiculed the cautiously good press Osborne was getting for having taken the gamble of being honest with the electorate.

Then, on Wednesday, there were two pieces of ammunition for the war Labour is conducting against Tory Toffs, which relies on undermining the mantra Osborne has borrowed from High School Musical: 'We are all in it together': Cameron was snapped by the Labour-supporting Mirror with a glass of champagne ('Cam Bubbly Boob'). And on Wednesday night, a TV film called When Boris Met Dave, explored their gilded tail-coated youth in the Oxford Bullingdon Club, where trashing rooms and spraying bubbly at passers-by were popular pastimes.

And there was a delicious own-goal as well. Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, who had been on the conference platform all morning, was asked on television how he felt about the appointment of General Sir Richard Dannatt as defence adviser.

"I hope that this isn't a political gimmick," said Grayling, only to discover this was a Tory -- not a Labour -- appointment which his leader hadn't got round to telling the Shadow Cabinet about.

But then came Thursday. To the bewilderment of the audience, most of whom didn't recognise him, Bono popped up on the conference screen praising the Tories' policies on foreign aid as he had praised Labour the previous week. There was the dawning realisation that Cameron had donned the mantle of Tony Blair, and was presenting himself convincingly as a decent, likeable guy who truly cared about the average Joe: as Blair won over the right, Cameron was winning over the left.

In an audacious speech, Cameron denounced Labour's social record: "Who made the poorest poorer? Who left youth unemployment higher? Who made inequality greater? No, not the wicked Tories, you, Labour: you're the ones that did this to our society". And he promised to "tear down Labour's bureaucracy, ripping up its time-wasting, money-draining, responsibility-sapping nonsense."

He managed to inspire standing ovations for two commitments to help the poor and promised that although there was pain ahead and there would be a "steep climb, the view from the summit will be worth it".

Samantha Cameron -- now known in the tabloids as 'Sam Cam' -- in a £65 Marks & Spencer dress, added to the sense that the Camerons were people you could relate to.

As if Thursday wasn't bad enough for Brown, on Friday the media consensus was that the Tory gamble had paid off, Osborne -- previously known as Boy George -- now seemed grown-up and serious enough to be Chancellor, while Cameron looked as if he had what it took to be Prime Minister.

The loyal Mirror did its best with headlines about 'Doomsdave' and 'Cam's a sham', but it's mostly terrible reading for poor Gordon. And Northern Ireland hasn't gone away, you know.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards