Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 16:15 UK

Martha Kearney's week

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

What a tumultuous week!

Nick Clegg
Will Nick Clegg be remembered more for his pension gaffe than his speech?

A small band of speculators deliberately causing turmoil in order to lower the value of one of the country's famous institutions.

So much for the Labour rebels.

There was the international financial crisis too.

That meant that the timing could not have been worse for an assassination attempt on Gordon Brown.

His allies were able to make the case that the party could not possibly get involved in an internal contest while the country was in the throes of such difficulties.

Many have told us in the course of the week how angry they are at such disloyalty.

Ministerial aide Roberta Blackman-Woods accused the 12 MPs of trying to "destabilise" the government and urged them to stop. But on Thursday's programme she also acknowledged that "it may be that there will be other resignations".

Low ratings

Make no mistake, market sentiment has turned against Gordon Brown in the country and in his own party. He must be wishing he could ban political short selling too.

A poll of Labour's grassroots members for the Independent suggests that 54% of party members and supporters did not want Mr Brown to lead them into the next general election.

The prime minister's personal rating was also lower than almost every other member of his cabinet.

But those loyal to him believe that in an election faced with a stark choice, people will turn to his experience of dealing with the economy.

A former cabinet minister who would like the PM to go described the plotters as an orchestra without a conductor

One minister joked to me: "Bring on as many crises as possible. It can only help Gordon".

But there is nervousness.

A cabinet minister asked me earlier on Friday: "Do you think there will be a spectacular next week?"

Brown safe?

Certainly a big resignation is what the rebellion needs but (and I could well be wrong here) there seems no sign of one at the moment as none of the contenders wants to be seen as an assassin.

Michael Heseltine's famous maxim about "he who wields the knife never wears the crown" has been frequently quoted this week.

But one of those close to the rebels told me: "They are all so busy watching their backs that Gordon has stabbed them in the front".

A former cabinet minister who would like the PM to go described the plotters as an orchestra without a conductor.

So this does probably mean that Gordon Brown is safe for the time being.

A lot will rest on his conference performance and the outcome of the Glenrothes by-election but I think the most dangerous time for him will be the promised reshuffle. He can't afford to alienate any of the big beasts.

Meanwhile his party will be hoping to stem the haemorrhage in the opinion polls.

Clegg's speech

This week's Ipsos Mori poll put the Conservatives above 50% for the first time in twenty years.

That is clearly bad for Labour but the real victims were the Liberal Demcrats who lost four points to the Conservatives taking them down to 12%.

We broadcasted each day from the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth. I can not say that it felt like the epicentre of the political universe with such big breaking news elsewhere (especially on Tuesday when a technical fault meant big delays in our interviews) but there were interesting stories to cover.

On Sunday night I chaired the first of a series of conference fringe meetings hosted by the RSA and The World At One.

New research from MORI tests how in touch parties are with their voters. For example 55% of Lib Dem voters are in favour of 42 day pre charge detention.

The party members seemed in buoyant mood, perhaps helped by the sunshine at the seaside but also because this is the first conference in a few years which has not been overshadowed by questions about party leadrership.

Nick Clegg's speech with good knockabout lines against Labour and the Conservatives went down well.

'Out of touch'

The fear for him must be, though, that he will be remembered for his slip in a TV interview that the state pension is 30 a week.

You can see his opponents turning that into an "out of touch" narrative.

The man who saves money in the credit crunch by shifting from Ocado to Sainsburys, who confused millions with billions in a Today interview and who got the pension wrong.

It will be interesting to read the post conference polls and to gauge how successful the party's big cold calling exercise, which saw it contact 250,000 voters with an automated phone message, was. Some PM listeners were annoyed by it.

Anyway the political caravan and WATO with it moves on to Manchester when our fringe meeting will be with David Miliband. No shortage of questions for him!




SEE ALSO
Martha Kearney's week
13 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
Martha Kearney's week
01 Aug 08 |  UK Politics


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