[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Martha Kearney's week
Gordon Brown and George Bush at Camp David
All formal for President Bush and Gordon Brown at Camp David

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

Camp David is a place of studied informality. Originally called Shangri La, it was built for the Roosevelt family as a summer escape.

Like many wealthy Americans, they created rustic simplicity in the woods or by a lake at great expense. Now the log cabins are enclosed inside a tightly guarded navy base.

At a previous summit I tried to engage a marine in conversation while we journalists waited in a long queue for security checks.

"How many troops does it take to guard this place?" I wondered.

"I can't possibly tell you that, ma'am" was the reply with a look that said any further inquiries would be met by lethal force.

Spitting hacks

We were also given a long list of rules: there will be NO mobile phones on the base; there will be NO knives on the base; there will be NO chewing tobacco on the base.

The last one floored me. Had there been a spitting bunch of hacks from Texas there lately?

Certainly Gordon Brown was not going to get caught up in any down home bonhomie during this visit.

The prime minister has raised his adherence to the lounge suit to totemic proportions.

He has been studiedly underdressed at lavish white tie dinners in the City of London. Now in "dress down" Camp David, he insisted on the formality of a lounge suit in a subtle distancing from the casual style of his predecessor Tony Blair.

Brown means business

Certainly NO bomber jackets on the base. This reflected the political purpose of the meeting. Brown was there to do business, but not to recreate the personal closeness of the Blair-Bush relationship.

Once again there came suggestions that the prime minister will achieve an early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

As we attempted to show on Monday's programme, however, the move to overwatch in Basra has been delayed and fighting between different Shia militia has increased violence in areas where the British have handed over control to Iraqi forces.

Ali Miraj
Ali Miraj publicly criticised Tory leader David Cameron

On Tuesday we began the first of our end of term interviews with the main political parties.

The Conservatives' day was overshadowed by a former Tory candidate Ali Miraj who had introduced David Cameron during his election campaign for the party leadership.

He turned on his leader and accused him of gimmickry and PR stunts. Cameron retorted that Miraj had been after a peerage.

Then came accusations of smears and blackmail.

Criticism both public and private

Does the row really matter? Miraj himself was dismissed as a failed parliamentary candidate, but his criticisms like that of Quentin Davies, are made by others in the party, especially constituency activists.

One senior former cabinet minister told me recently "David must stop pissing on his own party".

On our programme William Hague offered a soothing voice and said there should be no change of direction simply because of some disappointing poll results.

The Conservative difficulties have, to a certain extent, overshadowed problems being faced by the Liberal Democrats.

The Ealing by-election had been seen as a test of Sir Menzies Campbell's leadership and there was relief in Cowley Street that the party didn't do badly.

But it certainly wasn't the spectacular result that the Liberal Democrats have been famed for in the past and a BBC analysis of the last four months' opinion polls show that the party has dropped from an average of 21% in April to 17% in July which must be especially disappointing given the Conservative problems over the same period.

Sir Menzies Campbell and Lib Dem activists
Sir Menzies: over-promoted?
That brings me onto "Jackgate", as it is being called by some in the Lib Dem blogosphere. (We are devoted to political research on WATO).

On Tuesday and Wednesday our producers spent many hours talking to MPs, councillors and activists. Some acknowledged that the pressure on Ming Campbell had lifted since the by-elections but others were still very unhappy with the party's performance and blamed him though there is no appetite for a leadership contest.

Most were unwilling to talk publicly including Linda Jack, a member of the party's policy committee.

She then called us back and said she had spoken to a number of people who felt as she did and so decided to come on the programme to say this: "I think Ming was a brilliant shadow foreign secretary, but in terms of his leadership style he hasn't captured the imagination of the party or the country. Unfortunately it's the case where he has perhaps been over-promoted. Someone can be a brilliant man and have incredible intellectual powers and all the rest of it but if that doesn't translate in to leadership skills then - whoever your leader is - you've got a problem with them."

The party's deputy leader Vince Cable dismissed the charges and the poll drop, but did concede that Liberal Democrats needed to do more to communicate their policies.

On Thursday's programme we focussed on Labour and interviewed Ed Miliband, the Cabinet Minister who has been charged with writing the party's manifesto.

Given the strength of the Brown bounce there has been a lot of speculation about an autumn election.

Election timing

Miliband didn't exactly rule that out, but I would decode the phrases "there is still a big job to do" and "we mustn't get carried away by the polls" as pouring cold water on the idea.

Delay has its risks as the leading economist Martin Weale pointed out on WATO.

The squeeze on public spending will lead to pay disputes and higher interest rates will hit mortgage payers. But an ex-cabinet minister told me that spring does look tempting.

He argued that by then British troops should have withdrawn to barracks in Iraq and the change in the basic rate of tax will be in pay packets.

Gordon Brown himself has created the election fever by appointing an election co-ordinator and manifesto writer so publicly.

That may have been a tactic to put pressure on the Conservatives but it does mean that there will be constant speculation about election timing.

That could make playing the long game very difficult.


SEE ALSO
Martha Kearney's week
28 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Martha Kearney's week
23 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Martha Kearney's week
14 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Martha Kearney's week
06 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Martha Kearney's week
01 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Martha Kearney's week
25 May 07 |  UK Politics
Martha Kearney's week
18 May 07 |  UK Politics

RELATED BBC LINKS



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific