The sleazebags running Britain - into the ground, that is. Comment.

The description by  Peter Oborne of a government in collapse is recognisable to most people.   What we all need  is a clear overall assessment of Britain’s dire position and the unpopular steps  needed to right it - from David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party. 

Christina Speight
DAILY MAIL    21.2.09
Treachery, sleaze and a Prime Minister in denial. This is a Government in collapse
Peter Oborne

The symptoms are always the same when governments break down: sleaze takes hold, the ambitious defect, ministers turn disloyal, connection with reality gets lost and it becomes a matter of hanging on pointlessly to the end.

This state of affairs has occurred three times since World War II. The first occasion was the end of the 1951-64 Conservative Government, marked by fratricide - when senior ministers refused to serve under Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home - and public scandal such as the Profumo affair.

The second came at the very end of the 1970s, when Cabinet members like Tony Benn manoeuvred openly for the succession in the final months of the bankrupt Jim Callaghan premiership.

Fifteen years later and John Major's Government suffered a similar collapse. Giant rifts opened up inside Cabinet, the Government became mired in sexual and financial scandal, and ministers lost contact with the public mood.

Gordon Brown's Government has now acquired the full symptoms of one of these fag-end administrations. The first of these is sleaze. Ministers and MPs have lost all notion of the idea of the distinction between public duty and their own, sordid private advantage.

Of course, a handful of John Major's Tory MPs were openly on the take - but not at nearly such a high level as Labour's miscreants.

The Major period offered nothing comparable to the Jacqui Smith scandal, with a Home Secretary making false statements in order to obtain money from the public purse (Ms Smith has still not sued me after I accused her last week of thievery: does her failure to do so amount to an admission of guilt?)

There is one further difference between the Jacqui Smith affair and the John Major period. When ministers were caught out doing something wrong under Major, they soon resigned.

By contrast, Gordon Brown has thrown a protective shield round the Home Secretary - an indication that, far from being hit by the occasional case of sleaze, his Government suffers it as a systemic problem.


This impression is strengthened by the allegation this week that Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, may be engaged in the same sort of expenses scam as Jacqui Smith. The second symptom of terminal decay is disloyalty. Ministers are now actively preparing their exit strategies, just as they did at the end of the Callaghan and Major period.

In some cases this amounts to no more than making discreet preparations for a new career. In other cases it can amount to open betrayal. The end of an era is always marked by a steady creep of defectors to the new regime. This week's move by Gordon Brown's welfare adviser David Freud to the Cameron team was immensely important in that it showed how serious people now regard the Cameron Opposition as more credible than the Brown Government.

This is true among foreign leaders as well. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both made insulting remarks about Gordon Brown's economic policy.

Neither would have done so if they regarded our Prime Minister as someone they would be working with in the long term.   Under these circumstances, civil servants lose their motivation.

To give one very recent example, civil service inertia is an important reason why the Small Business Finance Scheme - set up to help small businesses which are unable to get credit from banks in the downturn - has paid out only some £12million to underpin small business loans, even though £1billion has been set aside for the purpose.

The third symptom is a dark sense of unreality. It is obvious, for example, that Gordon Brown increasingly lives in some bizarre parallel world.

As our finances collapse, he continues to insist that our economy is built on 'sound fundamentals'. The Prime Minister cannot begin to address the desperate problems Britain now faces until he accepts that something has gone very fundamentally wrong.

The final symptom of government collapse is the most obvious one. We are at the stage where even Cabinet ministers have privately written off winning the next General Election. Instead they are beginning to position themselves for the leadership contest which will follow defeat at the polls.

This is exactly what happened over Labour's Winter of Discontent in 1978/9. In the same way, civil war over Europe dominated the final year of John Major's Government in 1996/7, with Rightwingers such as Michael Portillo jockeying for position.

And this week, a significant new theme entered the Brown administration: an outbreak of hostilities between Left and Right.

Harriet Harman, who has been treated with contempt by Gordon Brown ever since she won the election for the Labour deputy leadership 18 months ago, is pushing herself forward as leader of the Left.

Cabinet ministers are now briefing viciously against each other behind the scenes, and are utterly disrespectful of the authority of Gordon Brown. This week provides several choice examples of this kind of insubordination.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson wrote an article for the Guardian in which he contemptuously trashed Gordon Brown's political strategy of accusing David Cameron of doing nothing about the economic crisis - indeed, Johnson praised Cameron, which must have infuriated Brown.

Two days earlier Peter Mandelson used a speech in New York to mock the Prime Minister's habit of announcing a long stream of initiatives as a substitute for serious action. Both men know the Prime Minister well enough to make these points in private.

Instead they have chosen to undermine Gordon Brown in public. Significantly, John Major used to be treated by his Cabinet Ministers with the same contempt.

Of course, this Cabinet-level dissent quickly spreads down the ranks. Yesterday saw a significant intervention by the influential back-bencher Frank Field who, in a deadly attack, asserted that the £75billion spent by Gordon Brown on his beloved New Deal jobs scheme [see “Youth unemployment - Frank Field speaks” yesterday at 11.14 am  -cs] and the related tax credit system had been all but been a complete waste of money.

Amidst all this shambles, it is only the Prime Minister who keeps faith in his policies. I am told that, at a recent Cabinet meeting, he earnestly told his senior colleagues that it was still possible to win the election, and the main problem was that the Government found it hard to get its message across.

As the Prime Minister spoke, Cabinet ministers rolled their eyes and cast despairing glances at each other. The irony is that Gordon Brown's perseverance is, in its way, wholly admirable.

He is convinced he can make one more great throw of the dice. The PM believes that President Obama's visit to Britain this April for the G20 economic summit holds the key to his recovery.

He wants to use the occasion to strike what he calls a 'grand bargain' between the world's most powerful countries to come up with a new global plan to move out of recession.

Such a bargain would mean a massive, coordinated financial stimulus from each country involved, isolating Cameron who believes that spending restraint is the only answer, and potentially providing Labour with a boost and a positive message for an early summer election.

Mr Brown desperately needs to pull this off. If he fails, then all he has to look forward to is 15 dreadful months of sheer humiliation as his broken, divided, rudderless and sleaze-ridden Government crawls to inevitable defeat.


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