Brown’s admission of defeat will cost him

Voters like to back a winner. It was foolish of Brown to predict a Tory victory.

The most telling moment in last night's debate came when Gordon Brown conceded:

I know that if things stay as they are, perhaps in eight days' time David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, would be in office.

This was probably intended to alarm voters (the man who would wreck the economy and slash public services could soon be prime minister), but it sounded like an admission of defeat.

It was also a remarkably ill-judged statement. Like Rupert Murdoch, voters like to back a winner. By admitting that Cameron is set to enter Downing Street on 7 May, Brown has made it all the more likely that he will.

Few voters pay close attention to the opinion polls, but the idea that Cameron is leading a government-in-waiting was in effect endorsed by Brown.

Even the most amateur politician knows to stick to the line that: "There's only one poll that counts, and that's on election day." Brown's decision to break with form and prejudge the outcome of the election must have had Labour strategists hanging their heads in despair.

It's far from unthinkable that Labour could rally and, due to the vagaries of the voting system, emerge as the single largest party. But last night Brown made that outcome all the more unlikely.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.