Brown must play his last card right

I WAS watching Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday and there sitting next to Tony Blair with an even more glum face than usual, was our Iron Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

He has every reason to be despondent, for a day does not pass without further bad news on the economy.

2003 is meant to be Gordon’s big year. You may recall that, back in 1994, Gordon Brown made a famous deal with Tony Blair that he would not challenge for the leadership in return for being made Chancellor and having control over domestic policy.

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Tony was to be given free reign over foreign affairs and retire midway through a second term so Mr Brown could become Prime Minister and establish a Labour dynasty.

That was the theory and, despite the occasional spat over Peter Mandelson’s behaviour and the disloyal briefings of Mr Brown’s press aide, Charlie Whelan, all went swimmingly.

For three years, Mr Brown followed Tory spending plans and won a reputation for prudence and caution - almost unknown for Labour chancellors. He was still raising taxes, but by doing it indirectly on items such as pensions and petrol, it didn’t seem to hurt that much.

Tony also has his ambitions and the suggestions of him becoming president of Europe were no joke. A new constitution for the European Union is being crafted by Valery Giscard D’Estaing and many foreign correspondents, with their finger on the continental pulse, foresee a European head of state being created and Tony Blair being the first person to occupy that hot seat. There’s also the suggestion of a European army to go with a European foreign policy and then there’s the question of British membership of the euro.

But, as Rabbie Burns reminds us, "the best laid schemes o’ mice and men, aft gang a-gley".

The Iron Chancellor has become Rust Bucket Brown. As the economy struggles under the weight of his high taxes and layers of suffocating regulation the tax receipts are dwindling and his obese spending plans cannot be funded. He’s having to borrow money and the whole house of cards is falling down around him.

In April, our National Insurance contributions go up and the stock market continues to fall - now lower than it was back in 1992. This hurts us all as our pensions drop in value and we have to work longer to make up.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair has finally decided to back George W Bush rather than side with the French and Germans after President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder stuffed him with a backstairs deal at the Nice summit last year.

As Mr Chirac bizarrely invites Robert Mugabe to France while Mr Blair is trying to stop an English cricket tour of Zimbabwe the idea of a European foreign policy, with attendant army, becomes the stuff of Alice in Wonderland.

The European bolt hole for Tony is disappearing fast and he’s decided to challenge - and defeat - Mr Brown on domestic policy such as tuition fees. It looks like Tony’s decided the deal is off.

No wonder Mr Brown looks so glum. With the economy turning sour and likely to get worse he’s not likely to become Prime Minister, and with a deteriorating reputation he may not last as Chancellor.

He has only one card left to play, and it’s the decision on having a euro referendum he must take this June. How he plays that card must surely determine if he ever gets to No 10.

Simply laughable if it wasn't so grave

A CORRESPONDENT in the Evening News letters page got it spot on the other night. Our council has truly lost the plot.

As if the embarrassment of its mad policy preventing videoing of nativity plays being broadcast to the rest of the world wasn’t daft enough.

Now our Labour council is vandalising our graveyards by knocking over tombstones on the grounds that they may kill someone.

This is the same council that arrogantly continues to threaten the Grade A listed Caroline House with its massive Waterfront development and allows sports pitches to be sold for executive housing.

Of course, a loose tombstone can be dangerous. So is falling masonry from buildings or badly-designed road junctions made worse by ill-conceived traffic calming.

And yet I don’t see Edinburgh being shrouded in protective scaffolding or traffic lights belatedly making an appearance.

By officially desecrating our graveyards our council sends a message to all yobs that it’s OK to join in. Soon, some graveyards will be beyond repair.

Maybe that’s what the council wants? Some of these graveyards would make excellent and lucrative development sites for more executive housing. If there’s anything that’s a threat to our way of life it’s our council. The quicker it is shoved over, the better.

Top drawer from Margo

WELL done Margo for showing she still has the balls to stand for what she believes in, even if it means taking on her party leadership.

There can be no doubt that she still supports independence, so it seems that her party has deserted her, rather than she it. I suppose it is no surprise that the SNP’s involvement in yet another fiasco at Follyrood should finally make her mind up.

I speak, of course, of that 88,000 reception desk approved by SNP culture spokesman Mike Russell.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the curvaceous oak and sycamore furniture may look stunning when our concrete albatross finally opens, but why do we need a reception desk at all?

Anyone familiar with Westminster will tell you that our Houses of Parliament don’t use one. Instead, you are greeted by a bobby and then by a steward who ask your business and how they can help. If they need to write you a pass they have a small bureau behind them they can use.

So, let’s have less of this extravagance. I’d rather we paid for bobbies on our beat than a desk for people to hide behind.