Nearly every recent opinion poll has shown that the Tory lead over Labour increases if Brown replaces Blair. Against that background, and after Gordon Brown's 'I'm a regular kind of guy' stunts have flopped, The Sunday Times lists some of the ways in which the Chancellor may yet strike at David Cameron's popularity. ConservativeHome examines The Sunday Times' principal suggestions below:
- Cut taxes. This seems an incredible tactic given that Chancellor Brown has raised taxes 80 times. The extent to Brown has fattened government is underlined in today's The Business: "The gap between public spending in the UK and in the euro zone will fall to a record low of 0.9 percentage points of GDP next year, compared with 8.8 points just six years ago."
- Pull out of Iraq. This policy - linked with some Prescott-style rubbishing of George W Bush - would be superficially popular but fleeing UK troops would very possibly leave a bloodbath behind. Such an opportunistic policy could badly backfire on Brown. Such a retreat might also be criticised by Tony Blair (or/and TB's advisers).
- A new public holiday. This may win a few headlines for 24 hours but it will not really alter Gordon Brown's standing or Labour's reputation for incompetence. More likely to tackle the competence problem would be the promotion of competent but dull frontbenchers to signal the end of the headlines-and-spin-ministers of the Blair era. Alastair Darling, John Hutton, Des Browne and Hilary Benn could all expect big, grey jobs in a Brown Cabinet.
- Democratise the Lords. This would make Mr Brown look more digital, less analogue and also - as part of a wider package of constitutional modernisations - might encourage Ming into coalition talks with any minority Brown-led Labour government.
- Tackle the Scottish question. Voters are unhappy with England's subsidy of Scotland. There may be a Nixon-in-China attraction for Brown in sorting this question out. He might calculate that Scottish voters have nowhere else to go and that English voters will respect him for levelling the financial settlement. This may prove to be a breakthrough issue for Alex Salmond's SNP, however?
- Take on the unions. Another Nixon-in-China opportunity for Brown to show that he is tough. Every time Brown acts tough he may also be playing into his wider narrative of being 'the tough leader for tough times' - in contrast to the green, inexperienced, never-achieved-anything Mr Cameron. Within this narrative expect more we'll-replace-Trident announcements and lots of tough crime policies.
- The economy, stupid. The Sunday Times still thinks that this might be Brown's best card: "If house prices are up, unemployment down and the economy bowling along nicely, would anybody want to risk it on the untried David Cameron?" Furthermore, will voters trust the boyish George Osborne with the economy - particularly if it is looking a little in need of careful nursing?
Andrew Rawnsley, from his regular Observer perch, thinks that Gordon Brown is undertaking a major repositioning:
"For years, the Brown camp has scorned Blair for pandering to Middle England and the right-wing newspapers which claim to speak for it. Suddenly, it is Mr Brown who wants us to know that he adores Middle England so much that he shares a bed with it every night. 'My wife comes from Middle England,' he recently told a right-wing tabloid whom the Chancellor had invited to watch him watching England play Trinidad & Tobago."
Mr Rawnsley thinks that a "left-wing challenge" to the Trident-wielding Mr Brown would suit the Chancellor "perfectly". Insofar as it will present Gordon Brown as 'Mr Moderate' that might be true but it is a dangerous tactic. The battle for the next Labour leadership may leave the party looking divided. Whatever the outcome, the Tories will be able to suggest that the left will be the tail that wags the parliamentary Labour dog.
There don't appear to be many forward options for Gordon Brown. It may be the econorooney or bust.