Blair poisoned chalice passed to Brown

Phil Simms - Online Columnist

British newspapers have joined the Conservative opposition in demanding the end of Gordon Brown's short-lived reign as Prime Minister.

Yet, the fact is that ever since 'New Labour's' accession to government in 1997, under the, Clinton-like telegenic Tony Blair, the once-great party has been in terminal decline. Blair's 'third way' conservative politics consigned to the dustbin the socialism on which Labour was founded and  — for traditional supporters  — the rot started then.

Bad policies and flawed personalities in the party leadership compounded the problem. And unfortunately for Brown, a man who has waited some 10 years for a chance at the top spot, rather than being passed the baton of freedom and prosperity by Blair he has been passed a ticking time bomb  — and it's about to explode.

The signs were there for all to see. Never before has the last scene in George Orwell's Animal Farm been so poignant. For a party that capitalised on Conservative party sleaze by pledging to be "whiter than white," the British public now has to struggle to differentiate between the humans and the animals.

In Blair's farewell year we saw a Cabinet member resign twice, one split with her husband over allegations about his business interests and another, the deputy prime minister, stripped of a mighty department after an affair with his secretary. The PM's wife was, again, caught dabbling in financial matters, dangerous criminals were lost somewhere and leading party members arrested in the cash for honours scandal that rumbles on.

We've had trade union pickets, tantrums and walkouts that were all supposed to end with the changing of the guard.

Labour's popularity has plummeted. The disastrous floods in July, however, did give Brown a brief respite and a glimmer of hope that there may be some way out of the political mess. He showed he was calm and thoughtful under pressure and pledged to make sure that no-one was out of pocket as a result of the extensive flood damage to property - a sure-fire vote winner.

But from then on his decision making hasn't exactly been 100 per cent. He didn't do himself any favours threatening to call an election  — on the eve of the Conservatives annual Party Conference  — that was a blue blood battle cry if ever I heard one. And surprisingly enough David Cameron's speech to his party members was such a rabble rousing one Brown was forced to sideline any plans for a snap election, and was made a laughing stock as a result.

The honeymoon period was well and truly over. There is only one problem if you stay in a job for an extended period of time; you automatically become identified with that position, in Brown's case, as Chancellor. It is bitterly ironic therefore that most of his present problems emanate from his old office, and are thus seen as problems of his own creation. Rather than starting afresh as PM he is seen to have just passed the buck onto Alastair Darling, the new Chancellor - just as Blair had done to him.

Within six months of Blair's departure we've seen massive funding problems at Northern Rock, the country's fifth largest mortgage lender, triggering the first run on a British bank in more than a century. This was illustrated by delirious scenes of thousands of scared people withdrawing their savings through fear they may lose their life savings.

To make matters worse HM Revenue and Customs lost computer discs containing the entire child benefit records, including the personal details of 25 million people - covering 7.25 million families overall. The two discs contain the names, addresses, dates of birth and bank account details of people who received child benefit, including their National Insurance numbers.

The details on the lost discs were not even in encrypted form  — leaving them ideal targets for fraudsters, hitting Brown's reputation hard.

So for a man who has always wanted to imitate his predecessor's success, Brown currently finds himself landed with his own embarrassing official inquiry into Labour Party sleaze. Brown sought to make a clean break with the past when he took over - stressing his guiding "moral compass," but following revelations property developer David Abrahams had donated more than  £660,000, under other people's names, to the Labour Party since 2003, it is something Brown apparently knew nothing about until last weekend.

The danger of the donorgate row is that Brown's government will now be seen as sleazy and incompetent as that of his arch rival and predecessor, Tony Blair. Rather than being a change of direction for Labour Brown's party is more of a continuation of the knackered old one.

The fact is Brown made the decision to change jobs from our premier 'iron' chancellor, admired by newspaper editors and even the Conservatives, to a lame duck Prime Minister whose party, ironically can no longer be trusted with people's money.