Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Martha Kearney's week

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

Speed kills. That was a motto forged in James Carville's famous war room during the Clinton campaign in 1992.

George Osborne
It has been a trying week for the shadow chancellor

This art of rapid rebuttal when faced by hostile news stories crossed the Atlantic and became a useful weapon in the New Labour armoury.

This has been a week when many different models of crisis management have been on show.

There has been the Peter Mandelson approach during his trade mission to Russia: pretend nothing has happened, ignore the journalists' questions about Deripaska and pose for pictures on a tractor.

Then there's the BBC approach: let the story run for days while 40,000 complaints pour in and the PM gets involved.

An initial announcement of an inquiry and a no interview policy could not withstand the barrage.

Casualties currently include the Radio Two controller with Ross suspended without pay and Brand leaving the BBC altogether.

And finally the George Osborne strategy: hope that a detailed account will make the story go away. When it does not, come clean and admit a mistake.

On Monday I knew it would not be an ordinary interview with George Osborne.

Surprise admission

When I began by questioning him about the economy, the shadow chancellor was unusually hesitant.

The key indicator of his nervousness was the fact that he failed to use his regular slogan that "Gordon Brown hadn't fixed the roof while the sun was shining" - a phrase which he has managed to engineer into practically every speech and interview in the past year.

If James Carville's other famous motto, "It's the economy, stupid," still holds good, then the Conservatives should be seeing some political benefits at the moment

The shadow chancellor was nervous because he knew I would be asking him questions about Yachtgate at the end of the interview.

I expected him to say he would no longer be personally involved in fundraising after all the criticism he had faced over the Deripaska affair.

What took me by surprise was George Osborne's immediate admission that he had made a mistake.

I cannot recall the last time a politician did that (without being on the verge of resigning).

But Mr Osborne hopes he has killed the story because it was paralysing his ability to attack Labour over the economy.

There has certainly been plenty of ammunition to throw at Labour this week.

US elections

The number of people losing their homes in the last quarter was eleven thousand, up 71% from the same time last year.

More homeowners will be facing negative equity. The markets too are still highly volatile and sterling plummeted early in the week.

If James Carville's other famous motto, "It's the economy, stupid," still holds good, then the Conservatives should be seeing some political benefits at the moment.

But instead the party's poll lead has been falling with Friday's YouGov figures in The Daily Telegraph putting them down three points at 42% and Labour up 2 points at 33%.

Of course, there is a long way to go yet and senior Labour figures dismiss any thought of an early election.

The reason that Carville and the 1992 US election are in my mind is because I am writing this at Washington Dulles airport.

We are over here for the US election of course.

I do hope you'll catch some of the coverage beginning with Shaun Ley on Sunday with The World This Weekend.

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