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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 17:19 GMT
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

Gordon Brown signs the EU reform treaty
Mr Brown attracted flak over the EU Reform Treaty
In the Downing Street grid this must have looked like a promising week.

There was the big launch of the Children's Plan by Ed Balls.

The prime minister was visiting Iraq just as a date was finally set for the handover of Basra province to overall Iraqi control.

On the very day he visited Afghanistan, the four-day battle for the Taleban stronghold of Musa Qala was won. (Was that pure serendipity that the victory came during his trip?)

Finally that pesky EU treaty would be signed.

So there was a chance to display statesmanship and to draw a line under the conflicts which dominated the last years of the Blair era.

Instead the prime minister ends the week being accused of cack handedness.

His home secretary is facing calls from the police for her resignation; there are signs that the revolt over 42-day detention is growing and finding a buyer for Northern Rock is proving problematic.

Taleban talks

The narrative (in the jargon) for Afghanistan should have been straightforward - military success in defeating the Taleban combined with support for President Karzai's efforts to draw in the so-called second tier fighters as a way of undermining the hardliners.

Instead on Wednesday there were two front page stories saying that Brown wanted direct talks with the Taleban.

At the beginning of his statement he had to contradict directly those stories by stressing that Britain would not negotiate with the Taleban.

His late arrival was criticised by being the worst of both worlds

David Cameron was able to criticise the government for the confused briefings.

Whatever lay behind those stories, it is clear that any talks with the Taleban would be very unpopular in Washington. An American official told me at a party this week that they are strongly opposed to the negotiations.

On Thursday, European leaders gathered in Lisbon for the signing of the EU Reform Treaty.

The ceremony had bizarre echoes of the Eurovision song contest with elaborate lighting and music but there was "nul point" for Gordon Brown as he attended a session of the liaison committee in Westminster instead.

His late arrival was criticised by being the worst of both worlds - attracting flak from the Eurosceptics for signing the treaty at all and mockery from his opponents who claimed it was another case of Brown behaving like Macavity the Mystery Cat.

Extensive knowledge

One Cabinet minister had joked to me earlier in the week that there would be a camera in the broom cupboard when the PM signed the document. In the event all the pictures were of a bouncy David Miliband who was his substitute.

Gordon Brown certainly seemed to enjoy his session at the liaison committee more than being at an EU summit.

This was a chance for him to display his extensive knowledge of policy detail and he elaborated on plans for public service reform going "wider and deeper".

Jacqui Smith
Jacqui Smith been caught up in rows over policy pay

We interviewed two MPs afterwards and Phyllis Starkey, who is the Labour member for Milton Keynes, felt that Mr Brown still had not given a sense of how his government differed from the Blair years.

Other Labour MPs are very unhappy over his refusal to give way over police pay and there is growing support for a Commons motion which urges a U-turn.

Martin Salter, who had been Jacqui Smith's Parliamentary aide, came on the programme to say that the government had broken the covenant with the police. They can not strike so there is, in his view, an obligation to abide by the findings of the independent pay tribunal.

The home secretary will be needing all her experience as a chief whip to deal with that revolt as well as the swelling discontent over her proposals to extend the period of pre charge detention from 28 to 42 days.

I met one MP in the week who had originally supported the 90-day proposal mooted by Tony Blair but who is now prepared to vote down 42 days because he feels the case has not been made and the safeguards are not adequate.

Given a week like that, perhaps it was not surprising when I interviewed Derek Wyatt (whose majority is only 78) and asked him about the Labour mood heading into Christmas, he replied: "I am depressed, very depressed".

Even the Conservative and Lib Dem MPs who were also at the table looked sympathetic.

Here is a selection of your comments:

The Prime Minister - Head of Government of a big European nation like the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland simply cannot be absent from the main events that mark the ongoing affairs of the European Union. At the right time, when all the other PMs or Presidents are there. It is not merely a case of symbolism, rather the full expression of engagement and commitment in the form of physical presence together with those representing other nations/countries. The excuse is irrelevant, quite meaningless indeed, the only possible interpretation being that top level British politicians continue to reflect the nagging doubts of the British, at large, regarding Europe.
Carlos Filipe Miranda Collaco, Lisboa, Portugal

I bet he hasn't read it!
Phil Moore, London, United Kingdom (not Europe)

Gordon Brown is clearly out if his depth, and his advisers are also playing in territory they are not at home in. Notwithstanding the politics, and I am deeply opposed to Labour, ineptitude is the order of the day at all levels and in all departments of this maladministration. Time for an election.
Ronald King, purfleet, england

Is it time yet for a "spill motion"? Whether the answer is 'yes' or 'no', the period of grace for whoever replaces Brown will be a short one unless they can clearly & honestly show that they put Britain FIRST! Otherwise they will be the "fag end" to what is already looking very much like a failing premiership. Brown or his successor needs to follow the mood of the country, & by following it earn the right to lead it. How? Quite simple really. Just offer the country a referendum on the new EU Lisbon constitutional reform treaty, & promise to genuinely & truthfully abide by the referendum's decision - even if that involvers total rejection of the treaty! If Brown or the new PM fails to do that, they will be lost & so will the Labour party. Though I can't say I would grieve over that - not even for one second!

Big deal, GB turned up late for the signing of the EU treaty, as if anyone in the general public cares. Commentators should be venting their spleen where it matters, at the US and Canada for blocking the climate change proposals. Meanwhile in Peru 30,000 families continue their struggle to rebuild their lives following last August's earthquake. All the BBC's political blogs should be filed under comedy as they provide such light relief from the real world in which we live.
Paul Turner, Peru

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