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Nelson's column

GORDON BROWN doesn’t get stage fright. David Cameron is rarely rattled. But I suspect both, this weekend, are quietly bricking it.
They’re facing their last party conferences before the election. Both are in trouble. Both have one big speech, on which all depends.
Can Brown pull it out of the fire — as he has done before? Can Cam persuade us that he’s anything more than ‘not Gordon’?
Preparations have started in the No10 bunker and in the trendy west London houses where Cameroons meet at weekends.
With Brown, it’s tough. His party has no money, and No10 is down to a handful of advisers — including many who don’t even like him.
I mean: Who advised him to collect that medal in New York next week for “Statesman of the Year” for his handling of the economy? It’s a joke.
Who was runner up for this prize? Fred Goodwin?
Once, No10 staff could (and did) advise the PM not to pick up embarrassing American gongs.
If these same newcomers are advising him on his all-important conference speech, he’s in trouble. Unless he relies on the best weapon he has.
Sarah Brown, his wife, is easily the most intelligent and capable person in 10 Downing Street. She has charm, political passion, the works.
She should do a Hillary and take on the show herself. But for now, she’ll be needed as Gordo’s ambassador to humans.
Show authority, she’ll tell him. Show substance. Persuade people that you DID save the banks and DID stave off a great depression.
Brown’s speech — in fact, his whole chance of saving Labour from annihilation and not just defeat — rests on one ability. Not charisma. That’s a lost cause. But he must show there is still fight in him. A passion not just for power, but for Britain. He must claim, as convincingly as he can, that he must stay as PM to complete the economic recovery. It’s the only card he can play.
And he’ll be desperate for any sign of progress. He may jump the gun, like he outrageously did with knife crime figures. But it won’t help him, any more than it did John Major.
The 1st Law of Recessions: Once voters think you’re a plonker, you’ve had it.
As for Cam, he has his own problems. His speech will be hailed as fantastic, because the media love a winner. But what about the public?
Once Gordo resigns (put it in your diary: Friday 7 May 2010, order the bubbly) then all these “we hate politics” voters will seek a new victim.
So at Tory party conference, he needs to seek a mandate. He wants to tell people “you’ve got what you voted for”. He needs to level with them.
Right now, the Conservative strategy can be summed up in five words. “Gordon Brown, ha ha ha”. They MUST now spell out what they would do.
So Cam’s mission is how to convert anti-Brown votes into pro- Cameron votes. He is agonising over the task.
Personally, I reckon there is a radical in Cameron waiting to get out. Someone who could not just govern Britain, but transform it.
Equally, he could mince about and do nothing — terrified of upsetting people — and be useless. It really could go either way.
Cam likes to think he’s bold. He claims he called for cuts long before Gordo, and he’s right. But the penny dropped far too late for him.
The Tories did the equivalent of pulling up an umbrella, twenty minutes into a rainstorm — when the other guy was still wet.
Both Cameron and Brown were too slow to see the storm coming. Neither has shown they really understand what to do next.
Voters can sense this. That’s why the next election is looking like a contest about who is the least unpopular. And THIS is the problem. Both Brown and Cameron are going into party conferences knowing the public is not sold on either of them.
They have a stage, a speech and the nation’s attention to change that. So whatever they’re planning, it had better be sensational.



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