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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 January 2008, 09:31 GMT
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

Next Monday night News At Ten will be back on ITV: Trevor MacDonald in an expensively revamped set with titles featuring the bongs and Big Ben, traditional values in a modern setting.

Peter Hain
Peter Hain has the 'full confidence' of the prime minister

Tricky things, relaunches. How far do you discard the past to present a vision of the future?

Under the real Big Ben this week Gordon Brown has again been wrestling with the dilemma of continuity versus change against a backdrop of poor poll ratings.

By the end of this week the plan was that the prime minister would have re-established his credentials as a strong leader of the country.

By stressing his ability to take difficult long term decisions for the country on public sector pay, the economy, health service and nuclear power, the prime minister would have put the travails of last year behind him.

Instead the news is being dominated by stories of campaign donations and rule breaking which had been so damaging to Labour before Christmas

On Monday the relaunch began with health against the backdrop of David Cameron's claim that the Conservatives were now the party of the NHS.

Gordon Brown announced a new screening programme but this had the hallmarks of a policy which had been rushed out ahead of time for political reasons.

The plan to screen men over 65 for "triple A" abdominal aortic aneurysms was uncontroversial but the other proposals were not.

Dr Surendra Kumar from the National Screening Committee told us that they were not in favour of universal screening for stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

Another aspect of the plan was that GPs would offer a full health MOT in surgeries but they too hadn't been consulted about the proposals as Laurence Buckman from the BMA said on the programme.

'Winter of discontent'

In reply the Health Secretary Alan Johnson argued that sometimes it was best to lead from the front and defended the government's stress on preventative medicine.

On Tuesday the second prong of Gordon Brown's "long term" strategy was also marred by a lack of consultation.

He announced proposals for a three year deal on public sector pay, somewhat reminiscent of the controversial incomes policy under James Callaghan's late 1970s Labour government.

A Labour adviser from that era, Lord Donoughue warned against the plan, saying that capping pay led to explosions further down the line (with the winter of discontent in his mind no doubt).

Paul Kenny, from the GMB, told us the trade unions had not been consulted and the three year deal was doomed to failure.

The plan had been presented as a way of tackling inflation but the economist Martin Weale maintained there was little link as public sector pay had little effect on rises in the private sector.

His view was that Gordon Brown was trying to plug the gap in the public finances.

Nuclear 'wriggle room'

On Wednesday, as usual we were down in Westminster for Prime Minister's Questions and a panel of senior backbenchers joined me.

Keith Vaz from the Home Affairs Select Committee had an interesting observation on ID cards (Tory leader David Cameron's main line of attack).

He thought Gordon Brown had allowed himself "wriggle room" on a U-turn - perhaps not so surprising given the all the Discgate problems. An interesting one to watch.

The worry for Labour must be that the political weather has not changed in the New Year

The final go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations was given on Thursday, a decision which had been long delayed by the government because it is so controversial especially in Labour ranks.

We talked to the power company EDF, whose chief executive told us they planned to build four new reactors in Britain.

The cost of nuclear power is constantly questioned.

The environmentalist Zac Goldsmith challenged ministers to give one example of nuclear power stations which had been built without a public subsidy.

Political funding

I put that point to the Business Secretary John Hutton who admitted there had not been one.

But he maintained that there would be no need for any in Britain except in extremis and argued that nuclear power was needed as a cheap and clean source of electricity.

But by the end of the week those issues of policy had been overshadowed again by stories about political funding.

Downing Street has pledged "full confidence" in Peter Hain, the Work and Pensions Secretary but there must be irritation in Number 10.

A journalist watching PMQs from the press gallery told me Gordon Brown physically turned away from Peter Hain when the issue was mentioned by an MP.

On Friday came news that a complaint has been made to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner following the investigation by the Electoral Commission.

Brian Hanrahan interviewed opposition politicians who called for Peter Hain's resignation on the grounds that a man who failed to keep account of his campaign funds should not be in charge of the biggest budget in Whitehall.

The worry for Labour must be that the political weather has not changed in the New Year.

Can there be any policies left to announce next week?

Here is a selection of your comments:

Lemmings will always head in the same direction every time they 'launch' ...... down !
Paul , Bristol

Peter Hains' attitude just goes to show the contempt this government holds the people of this country in. Why bother voting? Our politicians have lost the moral high ground for good!
John Daramy, Chesterfield / Derbyshire UK

Pay: Including the 26% rise the Tories gave MPs before leaving office in 1997 MP's salaries have risen 100% in just over ten years. Teachers and nurses over the same period hover between 26 and 30%.
Jack Lacey, Rochester Kent UK

Why would anyone spend 180k on a job application to come 5th? It tells us a lot about the individual and his misguided supporters. What would happen if donations fell short of expenditure? The vanity and arrogance of our political leaders and supporters is breathtaking. Do we really have the cleanest system in the world.
Richard Wise, Kings Lynn UK.



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