Has Murdoch’s flagship paper abandoned Gordon?

Has Murdoch’s flagship paper abandoned Gordon?

    The Times steps up the pressure on the pension row

times pensions brown.jpgOne of the aspects of media behaviour that is hurting Gordon this morning is that newspapers never like to under-exaggerate the impact of their own scoops.

So the Times follows it revelations on Saturday about the Chancellor ignoring the advice of civil servants in 1997 about the so-called “£5bn pensions grab” with today’s front-page splash, reproduced here, on the possible impact of its actions on the Labour succession.

And as Michael Ashcroft, the ex-Tory treasurer, would no doubt vouch when Rupert Murdoch’s main UK quality paper gets its teeth into something it does not let go easily. This one will run.

The paper says the “scandal” fuelled speculation that Brown “will face a serious challenge” and that he faces a Commons move by the Tories “to have him made personally accountable.”

Unnamed “senior MPs” are reported as saying “that the furore had increased the chances of a serious challenger stepping forward. They said that it sowed serious doubts about Mr Brown’s judgement and economic competence.”

What has made the story worse for the Brown camp has been the two year fight by the Treasury to stop these documents being made available and the suggestion, as the Times leader writer describes it, that they were only released “on a day when Parliament was not sitting and with the Iranian hostage crisis distracting attention. These were documents that the Chancellor wanted to stay secret.”

So with Betfair’s Labour leadership market now reaching the £1m mark what should punters do? I have long thought that the one thing between Brown and Number 10 could be what the ex-Tory PM, Harold Macmillan, once described as “events, dear boy, events”.

The main problem is that it is hard to make a case for an alternative candidate. I’ve yet to be convinced of David Miliband though I have got some covering money on him. My main reaction has been to reduce slightly my exposure if Brown does not do it.

A lot now depends on how relentless the Times is in continuing the story during the crucial next few weeks ahead of the May elections and whether this approach has Rupert Murdoch’s backing? If it does then other parts of the stable will ratchet up the rhetoric. The Brown price has tightened to 0.22/1.

Mike Smithson

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