Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Friday, 22 August 2008 17:23 UK

Can Brown turn it round?

By Brian Wheeler
Politics reporter, BBC News

"The public do seem to have switched off. Not necessarily from the government as a whole but they don't seem to be engaging with Gordon."

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown has promised help for families hit by rising prices

He may not be one of nature's Brownites - in fact he recently added his voice to calls for the prime minister to quit - but former spin doctor Lance Price has a knack of putting into words what Downing Street must be fearing the most at the moment.

Mr Brown is getting ready to stake his political future on a package of economic measures aimed at helping families through the credit crunch.

All manner of goodies have been hinted at - from a stamp duty holiday to one-off windfall payments to help with winter fuel bills.

The idea is to show voters Labour is "on its side" - that it is looking out for "ordinary people" - and hopefully provide some relief from some of its worst poll ratings in history.

Mr Brown's future as prime minister may rest on the reaction it gets.

But the fear for the government is that the public will fail to give Mr Brown any credit for his largesse - or simply shrugs its shoulders and change the channel.

"Even when he does something that should be ostensibly popular, no one is listening," says the former Downing Street man.

"That is a very dangerous position for the government to be in."

'Dreadful area'

Some Conservatives see parallels between Mr Brown's problems and their own party's predicament in the mid-1990s.

"They're entering that dreadful kind of area where almost everything they say and do is automatically rejected," shadow local government secretary Eric Pickles told The Financial Times.

"I am not saying they're entirely there but they are beginning to sink without a sign of the bottom."

I am not suggesting he should break down in tears on the BBC but he has to do something
Lance Price

Is there anything Mr Brown could do or say to reconnect with voters?

The only option, according to Lance Price, would be to "do something dramatic" - perhaps even stage his own Hillary Clinton moment.

When the Democratic hopeful shed tears on live television, she briefly shook off her "cold and calculating" image, argues the former spin doctor, and got people listening to her again.

"I am not suggesting he should break down in tears on the BBC but he has to do something. Simply coming up with some good ideas for a speech is not going to be enough," adds Mr Price.


Conservative peer Lord Bell - whose spinning skills helped propel Margaret Thatcher to three election victories - says Mr Brown should stop repeating the mantra that global factors are to blame for Britain's economic woes.

"He could make a serious leadership speech about what people should expect over the next two or three years in terms of the economy, prices and their mortgage payments.

"He could be honest and straightforward and say things that actually resonate with ordinary people's experience."

He can turn it round - but that is not the same thing as saying he will turn it round
Lord Hattersley

But the prime minister is unlikely to do any of these things because he appears incapable of admitting where the government has gone wrong - even to himself, argues Lord Bell.

"He doesn't recognise that he has made any mistakes whatsoever. Hubris is the end of all political careers and he has got it in spades."

Labour's former deputy leader, Lord Hattersley, not surprisingly, takes a less gloomy view.

"He can turn it round. But that is not the same thing as saying he will turn it round.

"If he does what needs to be done, I won't say it will be easily turn round, but he can do it.

"But it is no longer possible to say as long as we govern well we will get our just deserts."

'Ideological speech'

The key, argues the Labour peer, is for Mr Brown to shake off the mantle of his predecessor, Tony Blair, and rediscover the "special sort of fire" he had when he was shadow chancellor, when he was a "brilliant communicator".

He needs to "re-establish Labour as a party of principle and a party of ideas and not worry about alienating people who don't share them."

And he urged Mr Brown to ditch the carefully calibrated approach of previous years and make an "ideological speech" at next month's Labour Party conference.

Otherwise, the media would continue to interpret everything he does as "a way to win back votes".

Lord Hattersley stressed that he was not advocating a return to Old Labour values, but that Mr Brown had to rediscover the moral conviction he showed in his early weeks at Number 10.

He conceded that voters were not really listening to what Mr Brown had to say - but they were not listening to the Tories either, he argued.

"One of the reasons that it can be turned around is that very few people are voting for the Conservatives because they like what the Tory party has to say."

Nevertheless, Mr Brown probably had "until Christmas" to turn things round and improve Labour's standing in the polls before pressure on him to go becomes intolerable.

Not, he added, that Mr Brown would ever be likely to resign.

Here is a selection of your comments:

As prime minister-in-waiting, surely he had a plan to make his mark on the country when the big day arrived. But nothing seems to be any different to the Blair years. At least John Major was able to make some much needed changes, like ending the poll tax to make him electable. Did Brown have any ideas at all?
Steve Hill, Farnham, Surrey, UK

Tabloid journalism (now dominating TV news as well as newstands) and the blame culture now beloved by the grating British public means Mr Brown is doomed. Apparently every last problem is the government's fault and everything could be solved with the wave of a government's hand, if they wanted to.
Warren, Birmingham

If a big gesture is needed, this week's data loss gives Brown an obvious opportunity for a really popular one: the abolition of the plans for identity cards and the related database, and the use of the huge savings that would provide to give more help to our overstretched troops and pensioners in fuel poverty.
Eric, London, England

Gordon Brown and his entire shambolic government are dead men walking: we all know it , they all know it ( bar GB himself although even he can't be that dim ), even the Sir Humphries acknowledge it . As to nobody voting for the Conservatives, well you go on thinking that and we'll just see at the next election shall we.
Digby James, Windsor, Berks

It is obvious that all the preceding comments are from people who won't vote Labour whatever 'Gordon' does, Isn't it time for people to deal with the facts when talking about this apparent 'crisis'? Yes, he doesn't have the same communication skills as Tony, but he is clearly a committed politician, something lacking in the alternatives. As has been said before by other advisors, he should let more of his real views, his real personality, his core beliefs show through, something alluded to above in calling for a 'Hillary' moment. And get real people! It IS a global slowdown, not just here. And from the state of other countries, it is obvious we are in a better position to weather the storms than most. Things may be slowing down, but recession? Where exactly? I'm sure if I talk often enough about how handsome I am, most people will start to believe it...
Tony Green, Worcester, England

Didn't Mr Browns hearing problems begin when the public asked for a vote on the ratification of the European Constitution? He wasn't listening then and it appears he still isn't listening now.
Gee Bee,

The fact that so many criticise Gordon Brown and it seems he chooses not to listen, only confirms that he does not listen to anyone, ever. Frankly, it no longer matters what he does or says, he is not respected. The trouble with stubborn people is that they refuse to consider other peoples opinions and viewpoints. he should go, and go quick.
Alan Mills, Welwyn, Herts

There is no doubt that the nation will breathe a great sigh of relief when this "so called" administration is kicked out at the next election. They are incompetent and are ruining the country and they try to fool the populace with the same tired old politically correct mantras which even they don't believe anymore. The election can't come soon enough.
john, stevenage

Gordon will not be able to turn public opinion around. He has spent years undermining Blair in order to get the top job. Once he became PM it became clear he had no plan or vision. What a waster. Far worse - his reputation as a 'good chancellor' is now in tatters. Finally - the government of 'all the talents' appears to lack any talent or successor. Time to clear the governmental decks....
Jonathan Cook, London, UK

The electorate has got into a state of such petulance that any Prime Minister would be the target of its wrath. If David Cameron became PM tomorrow, very soon the moaning would start. And of course this is all fostered by the media. David Smith: how did Macmillan become PM? Or Jim Callaghan? Both were 'forced' on the electorate by a retiring PM.
Dectora, London UK

The smell of decay and despair from this govt is palpable. Nothing Gordon can do will stop that, he is a classic 'smoky room' politician from the Labour heartlands. He has no common ground or feeling with the public, only his fellow apparatchiks. Even they know he is doomed, but he has created a lacklustre team of yes men, none of whom show any real enthusiasm. Lord Hattersley said '...we govern well we will get our just desserts'. The only thing this shabby crew deserve is being ejected with the contempt of the country upon them. Or possibly face a firing squad.
MFM, Minas Tirith

The biggest crime of this government has been to treat people as fools - denying the truth and hiding behind rhetoric only they believe. They've all started to sound like robots repeating the same jaded statements at every opportunity and refusing to answer any straight question with an honest answer. They are deluded, stale, out of touch, out of ideas and the truth is out of options. They have over taxed us, overspent the money, robbed our pensions, failed to tackle crime, introduced a "nanny state" that interferes in everyone's lives and hooked millions into benefit dependency that brings the economy to the point of stagnation. Worst of all they are in complete denial about the end result of their own policies and do not have the capacity to right the wrongs - their only policy appears to be to offer yet more handouts.
Mark, Merseyside

A man who wanted the pm job so badly, is simply unable to do it. No charisma, afraid to admit to mistakes, the writing is already on the wall. A note to everyone, be careful what you wish for!
gary, Newcastle upon Tyne

I think the switched off comment in respect of central government is spot-on. The solution I believe is massive decentralisation of power away from Westminster and into the local communities, giving rise to regional variations in services, tax, laws, planning, education, healthcare, etc. When people have power over their own lives and communities, then they will start to engage again. In the meantime it's all just soundbytes. The day of the House of Commons is done!
Michael Harding, Penshurst

Look, the Labour Party cannot claim, as it has done for the last 10 years, that Gordon Brown was chief architect of a 'booming' economy AND then when it all comes crumbling down claim that it is nothing to do with him but is a symptom of global economic events. Complete double standards. The growth of our economy has stagnated because GB taxed us all by stealth, spent and wasted too much on public services (much of it to keep the traditional Labour vote happy) and we have nothing to show for it. Yes, we might have nice new shiny hospitals and schools but STANDARDS have fallen everywhere with filthy wards and some children in the poorest areas unable to read and write and the gap between the poorest and richest even greater - this from a shambolic Labour Government led by a man who is more interested in himself. An ok number 2 but falls well short of a number 1. Time for Mr Cameron to have a try.
karl scholfield, London

The problem with Mr Brown is that he comes over as arrogant and concerned more for his own political career than for the man in the street - a description of your average politician, in fact. Does anyone truly believe what any of them says or do we take all utterances with a handful of salt to counteract the spin? The biggest problem is that the poor will suffer most in the next few years and no-one in government will care enough to do anything about it. The country is in a big financial mess and it'll be a case of every (rich) man for himself while everyone on a low-income is left to suffer the consequences.
Sandy B, Charleville France

Brown wanted his time in the spotlight and that's all he cares about. In the old west of the USA he would have been tarred and feathered and run out of town. He should do the right thing and call a general election.
Alexandra Wolf, Fort Worth USA

Mr B needs to understand people earning around the higher tax threshold are hurting, and it's painful to watch hard earned money given away to groups who are not prepared to pull their own weight too.
Ian Cooper, Bromsgrove Worcestershire

"Mr Brown is getting ready to stake his political future on a package of economic measures aimed at helping families through the credit crunch." The best way GB can "help" families through the crunch is to reduce taxes significantly for EVERYONE, not redistribute more of our money to the week's "hot group". "The idea is to show voters Labour is "on its side" - that it is looking out for "ordinary people..." Yeah, the "looking out for "ordinary people"" should read "spying on ordinary people...incredibly badly with lots of information lost". "The key, argues the Labour peer, is for Mr Brown to shake off the mantle of his predecessor, Tony Blair, and rediscover the "special sort of fire" he had when he was shadow chancellor, when he was a "brilliant communicator"." You mean evasive control freak who has ruined nearly every government department he and his yes men have got involved in? His "economic success" people continue to wrongly highlight is entirely due to the natural economic cycle which was fed and cultivated under but not enjoyed by the previous Tory government. "One of the reasons that it can be turned around is that very few people are voting for the Conservatives because they like what the Tory party has to say." On that, Lord Hattersley, we can agree on; there are other options to the NuLabour/Bory hegemony and I for one am enjoying being part of one such group: LPUK.
Thomas Howell, Leeds

I don't think bribery will work, as the money involved has to be taken off people before being given back to them, a fact oft forgotten by desperate politicians.
Andy Breeze, Bristol

If Gordon brown wants to be Prime Minister then let the people decide rather than have him forced upon us. He is only as good as the cabinet, who I'm afraid don't trust and do not like. GB is a poor leader, he should have had a clear out at the start, he never tried once to clean the slate with the previous problems. Will there, won't there be an election? Well, I doubt if this was GBs doing... sounds like a Ed Balls or David Miliband concoction to me. Gordon if you do listen let the people decide if they want you as PM not the Labour Party, weak or strong leader there can then be no arguments.
David Smith, Leigh, Lancs

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