Has his reaction to BNP trial made John Reid look more liberal?
Gordon Brown is not yet Prime Minister yet his widely reported call for tougher race hate laws following the dismissal of the BNP case has been widely seen as a Government policy statement – an impression that was reinforced by other cabinet minsters rushing to back up the man most likely to be their future boss.
Yet the person on whose territory this is, the Home Secretary, John Reid, is said to be strongly opposed to Brown’s move and according to the Observer this morning the cabinet is facing “a major split on the issue.
So now we have the crazy spectre of Brown making of all people, John Reid, appear the more liberal on an issue of free speech.
The last thing that Gordon wants to do, surely, is to give Reid anything that could be used as a pre-text for him to mount a challenge? For the Home Secretary’s only real chance of entering the race depends on question marks developing within the Labour movement over the Chancellor’s judgement and electability.
As the Observer puts it “…The Brown-Reid divide was seen as particularly significant because the Home Secretary is being mentioned by some Blair loyalists as a potential successor to the Prime Minister.”
By straying into Reid’s territory Brown could also be helping the Home Secretary overcome one of his biggest negatives – his less than liberal image on law and order issues. Restricting the right to free speech is highly dangerous and the Brown move is not going down well with key parts of the media that he needs to have on side – the section headed by Guardian and Independent.
Brown’s comments also touch on an issue that is very sensitive to Liberal Democrats. A key hope for Labour is that a Brown-led government would help the party win back part of the voters behind the 6% move from Labour to the Lib Dems at the 2005 election. Calls to restrict free speech are not going to help that.
If it does get to a contest between the two Scots then Brown would be up against someone who comes over much better in interviews and speeches. Reid is a more compelling performer.
Having said all of this I think that Reid is a long way off being able to make a challenge and that the current 0.24/1 price on Brown winning represents good value.