Forces of hell - can Tories get it right this time?
The Mole: Tory spin-doctors flunk Bullygate – but surely Budgetgate is a doddle?
I think it's safe to say the election campaign has begun. Even if it's still uncertain whether Gordon Brown will go early on April 15, as has been predicted, or wait until May 6, still the favourite date, the spin doctors are at it hammer and tongs over 'Bullygate' and now over Alistair Darling's 'forces of hell' interview with Sky TV.
First, why would Darling choose to bring this up when Downing Street is already at full throttle trying to limit the damage from Andrew Rawnsley's bullying allegations?
Because Darling needs to make it clear where he and Brown stand when it comes to the upcoming eve-of-election Budget. And where they stand is on opposite sides of a moral quandary.
Simply, Darling's inclination is to produce a Budget that is good for the country - one that begins to tackle the horrendous national deficit, even if the cuts are unpopular just before his party goes to the polls. It's what the establishment want him to do, and what he knows is right.
On the other side are Brown and his henchmen, who, incidentally, include Charlie Whelan, one of the aides responsible for unleashing the 'forces of hell' on Darling when he said in August 2008 that Britain faced its worst recession in 60 years.
They want Darling to produce a Budget that will help Labour win the election. They do not want the sort of 'austerity Budget' that Roy Jenkins famously came up with in 1970, which undoubtedly played a part in Harold Wilson losing the 1970 election to Ted Heath.
Darling knows - as does everyone in Westminster - that Brown wanted to drop him as his Chancellor at the last reshuffle, and only held back because he had enough problems on his plate with James Purnell resigning from the Cabinet.
So, Darling ends up making his position clear on Sky and the Tories are having a field day. "This is amazing public confirmation from the prime minister's own chancellor that he ordered his henchmen to brief against him," said a spokesman.
And even Gordon Brown's most faithful followers squirmed this morning when he went on the GMTV sofa to say: "I would never instruct anybody to do anything other than support my chancellor".
Er, yes Gordon, but you didn't stop them either, did you?
The Tories cannot fail to capitalise on this one - or can they? One might have said the same about this week's other big opportunity - Bullygate - but actually they have not exploited that successfully.
It was perhaps bad luck for the Tories that their secret weapon, Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline, self-destructed so quickly - all the charity's patrons resigning en masse at her apparent breach of confidentiality - but the fact remains that Rawnsley and the Observer offered them a golden opportunity and they flunked it. ·
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