Cameron and Miliband at odds over Brown’s IMF bid

Labour leader insists Gordon Brown would be a “strong candidate” after PM vows to block any bid.

David Cameron has made waves this morning with his hint that he would block any attempt by Gordon Brown to become the new head of the International Monetary Fund. With classic English understatement, he told the Today programme that Brown "might not be the most appropriate person to work out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems".

He added: "Above all, what matters is that the person running the IMF [is] someone who understands the dangers of excessive debt, excessive deficit, and it really must be someone who gets that, rather than someone who says that they don't see a problem."

The reason this issue has arisen now is that Brown was openly networking at last week's economic conference in Bretton Woods, birthplace of the IMF. He is now routinely described as the "favourite" to take over from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose considerable talents are badly needed by the French Socialist Party.

DSK, as he's known in France, is due to step down in November 2012 but may quit earlier to stand in next year's presidential election.

At this morning's press conference at Labour HQ, Ed Miliband was asked to respond to Cameron's comments. He said the Prime Minister was "slightly jumping the gun" because there isn't a vacancy at the IMF, but added that Brown was "eminently qualified" for the job and would be a "strong candidate".

It would have been heretical for the Labour leader to say anything else, but he has handed Cameron another opportunity to play his favourite "son of Brown" riff.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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