PM faces revolt on higher road tax for 18m
GORDON Brown, the Prime Minister, is facing the prospect of another damaging back-bench rebellion, as nearly 18 million motorists are set to be hit with an above-inflation rise in their car tax.
Labour MPs have urged Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, to rethink plans announced in the Budget for big increases in vehicle excise duty on cars with higher emissions.
Their concern comes as lorry drivers are set to pour into London in what organisers hope will be the capital's largest protest against soaring fuel costs.
They are angry that fuel – already at more than 1.10 a litre for unleaded and even dearer for diesel – is set to rise by 2p a litre this autumn, the Treasury hike having been delayed from April.
With the road tax rises, vehicles registered before 2001 are exempt. But MPs are concerned at the number of car owners who could be faced with increases – in some cases of up to 200.
More than 30 Labour backbenchers have signed a Commons motion urging ministers to rethink the proposals before the new rates come into force. MP Ronnie Campbell, who tabled the motion, warned the impact could be similar to scrapping the 10p tax rate, which led to Mr Darling's 2.7 billion climbdown in an emergency "mini budget" earlier this month.
"It is unfair on people who bought their cars a few years ago not knowing that the government were going to put this road tax on," he said. "When people get their road tax letter through the door next year and find they have got an extra 200 to pay – well, I don't have to say any more, do I? The motorist is taking the brunt again."
Mr Campbell, who is due to meet Mr Darling this week, also called on the Chancellor to drop the planned 2p rise in fuel duty. He said that with rising world oil prices pushing up costs at the pumps, another increase would be too much for many families. "I think people just at this moment can't afford it. They really are feeling the pinch."
One Labour MP warned that the party also risked alienating "Mondeo man" – the name given to middle-income voters Labour needs to woo if it wants to defeat the Tories.
Rob Marris, MP for Wolverhampton South West, said: "Millions of people will be affected. Medium-sized family cars could be hit very hard."
Joan Ruddock, the environment minister, said that while she sympathised with motorists, the government "could not lose sight of the environment agenda".
The demands represent another headache for Mr Brown at a time when he is already politically weakened by the debacle over the 10p tax rate and Labour's disastrous performance in council polls and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.
Hauliers are warning of dire consequences if the planned 2p rise goes ahead. As their protest gets underway today, drivers plan to hand in a letter to Downing Street, calling on the government to make a special exception and grant fuel duty rebates to operators of "essential vehicles".
But that risks angering ordinary motorists also hit hard by high fuel costs.
Does Brown need to change image if he is to survive? Experts give their view
NICHOLAS JACKSON O'SHAUGHNESSY, professor of marketing and communication at Brunel University
Gordon Brown may see the idea of taking lessons in public speaking and performance skills as frippery, but it's the essence of political success. He needs to lighten up, focus on aspirational Britain, and develop a sense of irony and wit. The problem is, he's a proud man, and acting skills are not part of his political repertoire. He'd find it hard to accept advice from some dilettante thespian.
For a decade, Gordon Brown was part of a successful duumvirate. He and Tony Blair were the two faces of Labour. Blair was charming, persuasive, and resonated with modern England, whereas Brown's role was one of gravitas and prudence. It was a good duality of conception.
Now, without Blair, Brown has become more vulnerable. He has this notion of authenticity which just does not fit into modern politics. I told (William] Hague to get acting skills, and advised (John] Major to lose his glasses. Major wasn't happy with the advice, but politicians like him and Brown have to realise self-projection is vital to their success.
ALEX CHALLONER, managing director of Cavendish Place Communications
THERE are no short-term fixes for Gordon Brown. Certainly, he can't have a drastic change in his day-to-day image; that would be a total disaster.
He is seen by voters in the south of England as cautious, ostensibly a dour man. If that were to change overnight, it would be artificial.
If he can be seen to be leading the country, and contrast himself with David Cameron's relative inexperience, it will work in his favour. The voters are still undecided about Mr Brown.
DR JENNIFER VAN HEERDE, lecturer in political science at University College London
VOTERS are forgiving if they trust someone, but they still demand someone who is personable. You do have to employ advisers and make sure you come across well, but it is difficult.
If we are going to get past the question of whether we need a party leader to have Blairesque qualities, people have to decide whether they want presentation alone, or someone who is capable of drawing together policies. I think it is unfortunate that Brown's time as Prime Minister has coincided with significant change in the world, with the global credit crunch, and the remnants of Blair's policies, in Iraq for example.
SHANE GREER, of political website shanegreer.com
Gordon Brown is very distant. That comes across in his interviews. He is awkward and mechanical and sounds like a broken record. He isn't able to relate policy to people.
Look at Tony Blair's personality. He had an amazing ability to connect with people on their level. Gordon Brown doesn't have that same kind of personality. He is much more a mechanical, robotic politician.
When you compare that to what David Cameron is doing, he's got a much more personable approach. Tony Blair, whatever else you thought about him as a politician, was a great communicator. Tony Blair was the kind of guy you could see yourself having a beer with.
JONATHAN GABAY, Marketing expert from Brand Forensics
From a branding point of view, there are two markets – there is an overseas one and there is a home one. In the last couple of months, Gordon Brown seems to have done everything he can overseas, including an appearance on American Idol, where he tried to be a cool sort of guy. All that is superfluous unless he can consolidate his brand image at home.
It has to be a message that is simple, understandable and achievable to give him a slight chance of redeeming things. His problem is that he is the person who has arrived at a party just as it is about to close.
MIKE ION, blogger and former Labour parliamentary candidate
THE task facing Gordon Brown is monumental. If he is to survive, then he will need to define his vision for Britain with far more clarity and passion. This will mean leading public opinion, rather than merely following it. Brown more than anyone understands how trust and integrity matter in modern politics. If a fourth term is to be achieved Labour must continue with its reform package and stop fretting about opinion polls.
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