How powerful is Gordon Brown?

Forbes ranks Brown at number 29 in its power list

Gordon Brown has made it to number 29 in Forbes's annual global power list. I won't quarrel with that -- Brown also appeared at 29 in our recent list of the 50 people who matter today.

It's certainly an improvement over GQ's risible "100 most influential men in Britain", which put David Cameron at number one (the GQ editor, Dylan Jones, is the author of Cameron on Cameron, a book of conversations with the Tory leader), George Osborne at number four and Brown at number nine.

Forbes's accompanying blurb for Brown bizarrely fails to mention his considerable influence on the global bank bailout, something that led Paul Krugman to declare that Brown had acted with "stunning speed" and that he had "defined the character of the worldwide rescue operation".

But the magazine does claim that voters will have their say on Brown "in June". Unless someone has improbably leaked the date of the general election to Forbes (3 June would be the last possible date), this appears to be another example of the casual foreign assumption that the UK has fixed-term parliaments. In fact, the ability of British prime ministers to go to the country at a time of their choosing is something that gives them more power than many of their foreign counterparts.

What of the rest of the list? Nicolas Sarkozy, a man with a pronounced Napoleon complex, will be astonished to see himself at a humbling 56th. But the BBC director general, Mark Thompson (the only Brit on the list other than Brown), should be pleased to sneak in at 65 after a fraught year for the corporation.

Finally, Rupert Murdoch's animus against the "parasites" of Google is unlikely to ease after Sergey Brin and Larry Page were given fifth place, leaving the media mogul trailing in seventh position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.