Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 15:41 UK

Martha Kearney's week

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

I am writing this on the way to the Latitude music festival near the Suffolk coast.

Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand are expected, the Arctic Monkeys are not
I wonder if Gordon Brown realises that he is going to stay in Southwold for the wrong week.

But he may not mind - the Arctic Monkeys, "his favourite band" aren't playing and my guess is that Franz Ferdinand (who are) probably conjure up Balkan history for him rather than Glasgow art rock.

The man I feel sorry for is the Chief Whip Geoff Hoon who has a cottage nearby. Will he be called to late night summits in the fish and chip shop by his workaholic boss?

Last year I witnessed Geoff Hoon dashing out of the Jarvis Cocker audience at Latitude to take a call from said boss.

Still the prime minister must be pleased that Parliament is about to have its summer recess.

Iraq withdrawal

This will be a chance to recharge his batteries and focus on a new strategy for the Labour Party. Much of his original plan for change has gone by the wayside.

Radical constitutional reform like an elected House of Lords has been kicked into the long grass.

There had also been high hopes early on in Team Brown that they would be able to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of this year.

Gordon Brown
A holiday will give the PM the chance to recharge his batteries

Instead as the chief of defence staff told me on The World at One on Thursday, changes to Iraqi forces on the ground had required a "pause" in the reduction of troop numbers.

He said he expected the task of training and supporting the 14th Division of the Iraqi national army in Basra to be completed "some time around the first part of next year. Then we would expect to see a substantial change in our mission in Iraq."

But perhaps the timing of that wouldn't be so bad for Gordon Brown if substantial troop withdrawals happened reasonably close to the general election, widely expected to be in 2010.

Crime down

It will also be easier to reduce the deployment if there is a Democrat president in the White House as reportedly there had been disquiet in the Bush administration about having to cover for British troops in southern Iraq.

On the domestic front this week Gordon Brown did defuse the growing anger over plans to raise fuel duty in the autumn but that leaves him with another 550m to find at a time when public spending is already stretched to the limit.

That is the government's problem at the moment. Whatever it does, voters aren't prepared to give Labour any credit

Those constraints are already being felt by council workers who went on a two-day strike this week against a 2.45% pay rise.

With retail price inflation at 4.8 per cent, the highest since the early nineties, the government and other employers will face stronger demands for higher pay with the risk of an old-fashioned wage/price spiral.

There was some good news this week though. Both sets of crime figures - the British Crime Survey and recorded police figures - show that crime, including violent offences is down.

Unfortunately for the government, people don't believe it. While two thirds believe that crime is down in their own neighbourhood, two thirds believe it is up nationally.

That is the government's problem at the moment. Whatever it does, voters aren't prepared to give Labour any credit.

How very different from this time last year. When Gordon Brown interrupted his holiday to deal with the floods, it was seen as showing an ability to cope with a crisis, a man with an immense commitment to his job. If there are floods this year, he'll probably get the blame.

The heavens have just opened here in Suffolk - perfect festival weather then.

If you want to hear more about Latitude, do join me on Sunday morning at nine on Radio 4 for Broadcasting House. On the show will be Irvine Welsh, David Morrissey, Ross Noble and Franz Ferdinand (not the one from Sarajevo).


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