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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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.