Brown's loud boo to ya-boo politics
GORDON Brown yesterday pledged to break the adverserial mould of British politics, drafting in Conservative and Liberal Democrat advisers and promising to consult new "citizens' juries" on government policy.
The Prime Minister returned to front-line politics after the summer break with a promise to put the national interest above party political concerns, but he failed to kill off suspicions that his plans are aimed at keeping opposition parties off balance by reaching out to their natural supporters.
Mr Brown also tried to dampen speculation about an early general election but refused to rule out calling a poll in the coming months.
Although his early opinion poll lead over the Conservatives is fading slightly, Mr Brown remains focused on dominating the political agenda, and his appointment of two former Tory frontbenchers may undermine the authority of David Cameron, the Tory leader.
"I want a government that reflects the whole of the national interest, is not partisan and sectional," Mr Brown said, announcing that Patrick Mercer will advise the government on security issues and John Bercow will lead a review of language services for children.
Mr Mercer is a former Tory homeland security spokesman sacked over racially sensitive remarks in March. Mr Bercow is former Treasury spokesman who broke with the previous Tory leadership over his support for gay adoption.
Mr Brown also appointed Matthew Taylor, a senior Lib Dem MP, to advise ministers on land use and planning systems to help rural communities.
"This is the wrong time in history for politics as usual... the wrong time for empty partisan posturing which focuses on what divides us," Mr Brown said in a speech in London yesterday. "This is the right time to discover what we have in common."
The first concrete changes to emerge from his speech will be a series of "citizens' juries", panels composed of randomly selected members of the public who will be consulted on departments' ideas for future policies.
The first will meet this week, and be asked to consider plans to tackle gang membership and violence among urban youths.
Finally, Mr Brown said he wanted to convene a Speaker's Conference, a wide-ranging cross-party debate, on ways to restore public confidence in politics and increase turn-out at elections.
The Lib Dems and a number of contitutitonal reform groups yesterday welcomed Mr Brown's promise of a new consensual approach to politics.
But Caroline Spelman, the Conservative party chair, struck a more sceptical note, suggesting there was little new in Mr Brown's words.
She said: "He has talked about many of these ideas throughout the last ten years but failed to deliver on them. The government has announced the idea of citizens' juries no less than 15 times since 1997."
Labour fuels speculation of snap election as party looks to recruit extra media staff
LABOUR has started beefing up its team of media experts in anticipation of an imminent general election, The Scotsman has learned.
Despite its parlous financial position, the party has started the search for several new staff for its central press office at its London headquarters. The move comes only months after Labour went through a painful round of redundancies and other cost cuts to contain a multi-million-pound debt.
Labour is now advertising for a number of "media monitors", specialist staff who watch and analyse political coverage to assess how Labour's political messages are being received.
Successful monitoring is vital to an election campaign, allowing party chiefs to fine-tune their tactics and quickly rebut negative stories.
The 28,000-a-year jobs are being offered on the basis of fixed-term contracts.
Labour officials would not say how long the contracts would last but, in the past, the party has recruited staff on contracts retaining them until the month after the next general election.
In another possible hint at the rigours of a national campaign, applicants will be "expected to work night shifts and weekends on a rota basis with the other members of the team".
A Labour spokesman said yesterday that nothing should be read into the recruitment.
"We always said we would be taking on more people over time," he said, insisting that despite its well-known debts, the party is now on a "stable financial footing".
In June, Gordon Brown took control of a party more than 20 million in the red. But a surge of donations - including more than 1.5 million in his first three days in office - has fuelled talk of a snap poll.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: YOUNG STAR WHO NEVER REACHED THE TOP
HE HELD the title of parliament's youngest MP for ten years and a number of high-profile front-bench jobs, but Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP, never quite made it to the ranks of leadership material.
As he prepares to quit parliament before the next general election, Mr Taylor has been given one small consolation: working with the government without having to be elected to it.
A former party chairman and MP for the Cornwall constituency of Truro and St Austell, Oxford-educated Mr Taylor has been appointed by Gordon Brown to be an adviser on rural housing, a subject he is familiar with in his constituency, where housing supply is under pressure from second-home owners.
He was first elected to parliament in 1987, aged 24, and was campaign manager for the former leader, Charles Kennedy, when he stood to replace Paddy Ashdown.
He held several front-bench positions, including Treasury spokesman, but has announced his intention not to fight his seat at the next election to spend more time with his partner and son.
The timing of Mr Taylor's entry into Westminster was unexpected. He had been working as an economics researcher for David Penhaligon, the Truro MP, when he died in a car crash in 1986. Mr Taylor was selected to run as the Lib Dem candidate in the by-election and managed to consolidate his win at the general election again several months later.
He championed the controversial Lib Dem proposal for a top rate of tax on earners over 100,000 - a policy since dropped.
Sir Menzies Campbell welcomed Mr Brown's appointment of Mr Taylor, saying: "As the MP for a rural constituency Matthew has direct experience of the impact that the rural housing crisis is having on local communities."
JOHN BERCOW: FROM HARD RIGHT TO SOFT LEFT
THE political journey that led John Bercow to his appointment as a government adviser has been a long and sometimes dramatic one.
First elected to the House of Commons in 1997 as MP for Buckingham, he was once on the hard right of the Conservative Party.
At Essex University, he was a member of the Monday Club, a Tory faction most notable for its staunch opposition to non-white immigration, but left at the age of 20.
After university, he worked as a banker and lobbyist, but was mainly focused on politics. A Tory councillor in London in the 1980s, he was a candidate in Motherwell at the 1987 general election.
After failing to get elected again in 1992, he was an adviser to John Major's Conservative government, working for Jonathan Aitken, the disgraced Cabinet minister.
In parliament, he initially followed the modernising path set by Michael Portillo, but was appointed to the shadow cabinet in 2001 by Iain Duncan Smith.
His front-bench career ended in 2004 when he resigned after defying a party order to vote against allowing gay couples to adopt children.
His principled stand on the issue led to the misperception that Mr Bercow is gay. In fact, he married in 2002, to Sally Illman, a card-carrying Labour Party member. The couple have two children. Oliver, their three-year-old son, has verbal dyspraxia, a condition that affects speaking ability even among children with normal or above-average intelligence.
His son's experiences have given Mr Bercow a close interest in the speech and language services for young people that he will now review for Gordon Brown's government. He is also likely to retain his active interest in international development issues from the back benches.
PATRICK MERCER: SOLDIER WITH A PENCHANT FOR FRANKNESS
AT FIRST glance, Patrick Mercer is perhaps the most unlikely recruit to Gordon Brown's exercise in Big Tent politics.
A former army officer with trenchant right-wing views on a number of subjects, the MP for Newark in Nottinghamshire was earlier this year forced off the Tory front bench in a row over his use of the phrase "black bastard".
But the government's new adviser on security issues is more than a cartoon Tory boor, boasting as he does eloquence, intelligence and an impressive CV. During a full army career, he served some 13 operational tours in Northern Ireland. He received an MBE in 1992 and an OBE in 1997 for services in Bosnia, and became the army's youngest full colonel since the Second World War.
After leaving the army, he worked as a BBC defence correspondent before entering parliament in 2001. Appointed to the Tory frontbench by Iain Duncan Smith, his hopes for further promotion were dashed by David Cameron, whose allies regarded Mr Mercer with some suspicion because of his traditionalist views.
His downfall came in March, in a newspaper interview about racism in the armed forces. Recalling his time commanding the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, Mr Mercer said that racist insults to black soldiers were simply part and parcel of military life. He added that he had known "a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours".
Within hours of the interview being published, the party leader dismissed Mr Mercer.
Since leaving the front bench, he has been much in demand as a commentator on military and security matters, writing frequently for newspapers including The Scotsman.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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