Brown emerges and quashes ill-health rumours

How claims that Brown was receiving “psychological treatment” fell apart.

It was good to see Gordon Brown respond to claims that he's been spending stints at an Edinburgh hospital for "psychological reasons" with the wit for which he was once renowned.

On a visit to a school in his Kirkcaldy constituency, he told reporters:

The only times I've ever been in hospital were for the birth of my children, for my eyesight, for Fraser . . . and when I was once up a mountain with John Smith and accidentally stabbed myself in the leg with a penknife.

Guido Fawkes had claimed that Brown was receiving treatment at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and, although he noted Brown's public appearance yesterday, he is yet to make a retraction. Over at Liberal Conspiracy, a contributor has pointed out that Brown is unlikely to have gone anywhere near Edinburgh Hospital for two reasons. First, he is in the wrong catchment area and second, it's inconceivable that the former prime minister wouldn't have been spotted in a hospital that has no private wards.

Speculation about Brown's health is legitimate enough (though I thought Andrew Marr's infamous question about prescription pills was entirely inappropriate), but the tone some commentators employ when doing so is crass, crude and thoughtless.

Guido, for instance, featured an image of the former Labour leader bearing the legend, "Is Brown bonkers?" One had hoped that society had evolved to the point where such comments had become as unacceptable as references to "cripples" or "spastics".

Elsewhere, there is evidence that Brown is enjoying his new-found freedom. The Telegraph's Tim Walker reports that the former PM is no longer forced to "tone down" his Scottish accent for English voters.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.