Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Friday, 25 July 2008 15:44 UK

Martha Kearney's week

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

Franz Ferdinand
Radio 4 is the new rock 'n'roll: Band begs for Martha's autograph

My week began with one of those "live radio moments" when the Scottish author Irvine Welsh used the F word on air.

Bit of a shock on a Sunday morning.

He apologised but certainly upset plenty of listeners.

The expletive wasn't on The World at One, you may not be surprised to hear.

Politicians tend not to use bad language on air, however goaded, but I can imagine there were plenty of swear words heard round the country on Friday morning at the breakfast tables of MPs with marginal seats.

The news of Glasgow East came as a total shock to the party. Several ministers assured me this week that the by-election was safe.

In case you think I was being spun, I even overheard one whip just back from Scotland reassuring a fellow minister that they'd win with a 4,000 majority.

Time for change?

Instead of getting a breathing space, Labour MPs will be heading off for the summer recess with a heightened sense of impending doom.

So is there any way out for Labour? Is it time to change leader?

Previous critics like Graham Stringer and Lord Desai have again called for Gordon Brown to go but the Labour peer also admits that there is no stomach for a leadership challenge.

I tend to agree, for the time being anyway. Most conversations I have had tend to follow a similar pattern.

Remember TINA from the days of Mrs Thatcher? There Is No Alternative.

However despondent many Labour MPs are, they believe that any new leader would have to fight an election.

They couldn't change PMs twice without going to the country. In the present circumstances who would go on a kamikaze mission like that?

Talk straight

So what about a change of direction?

Labour MP Brian Iddon told our programme that "Gordon says he's listening to the people, and I'm sure he is, but what he has to start doing is taking some notice of what they're saying¿They've just got to stop all these new initiatives, stop putting spin on things and talk to people straight and develop some policies which working-class people are asking them to develop."

There is a strong sense among some Labour supporters that the government hasn't done enough for its working-class supporters given that the gap between rich and poor has widened in the past 11 years.

The head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, told our programme on Monday: "We have to tackle the causes that drive inequality in our society and, I think, to be honest, the public is very, very keen on this at the present time.

"People can see the economic slowdown coming. Everyone is happy to take some of the pain as long as that pain is shared fairly and what we want to do is to make sure that the burden doesn't fall unfairly on some groups rather than others."

Another view is to wait for the Conservatives to stumble. One former minister was in pugnacious mood.

"We just have to wait for the Tories to fall apart," he said. "David Cameron has a glass jaw; we just need to hit it hard enough."

Summer vision

A cabinet minister of the younger variety believes the answer lies in Gordon Brown's own message that Labour has provided a platform of economic stability on which the nation's talents and aspirations can thrive.

I wondered whether that message would resonate during the economic downturn. No, he conceded, that is a real problem.

So Gordon Brown is under pressure to come up with a vision for the party over the summer.

It seems unlikely that he will allow his holiday to get in the way.

A close friend of the PM's told me that even on Sundays, Gordon Brown's idea of chilling out is to wear a suit without a tie.

The PM and his family will be just down the road from the Latitude Festival in Suffolk, from where I presented Broadcasting House last Sunday (the one with all the swearing).

One band who behaved impeccably on the show was Franz Ferdinand.

A) Even though rock legends, they didn't use any four letter words

B) They dedicated a song to me

C) They are big Radio Four fans

So the producers gave them a couple of lovely souvenirs - Radio Four pens - much treasured as you can see (at the top of the page).

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