Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Live from the Locarno Room.

Was that Gordon Brown’s best morning ever? Isn’t it just all downhill from here for him? As he walked in to his press conference with Barack Obama the Prime Minister looked like a cat that had not so much licked the cream as been smothered by one of those aerosol cans of aerated UHT foam that teenagers inject into their mouths at parties. He was positively beaming from ear to ear.

The Locarno Room of the Foreign Office does over the top quite well enough but the government had insisted on sticking eight flags, four from each side of the Atlantic, behind the twin lecterns. The lights went up and Hilary Clinton walked in - remember her, she lost - accompanied by Bananaboy, our Foreign Secretary - he never tried. Then it was Baroness Shriti Vadera, her floral blouse displaying green shoots of recovery, and Tim Geither, the US Treasury secretary who put the frisk into fiscal stimulus.

Mr Brown began with a gushing welcome to the most popular politician in the world, bar Kim Jong-il the leader of North Korea, who is not attending the G20 but launching a test rocket instead. Mr Brown spoke about the special relationship, a”partnership of purpose”, being renewed and Mr Obama’s shoulder’s sagged a little, but only out of tiredness.

Mr Brown found the vocabulary to make the event relevant to people “anxious about their mortgages, their jobs and their family’s future” but it amounted to a thank you for saving my premiership, if only for a day. He is always a little clunky but he looked sincere and happy.

The President reciprocated with warm words, heaping praise on Gordon Brown’s leadership. He could have stopped right there but he went on to cement a friendship by talking about his breakfastime encounter with the Brown family’s dinosaurs in between discussions on Afghanistan. He called him Gordon and Gordon called him Barack. There was no doubting that the two men got on well during their two hour breakfast. They were relaxed in each other’s company in batting the media questions.

Both stressed today that they believed there was considerable “common ground” among the nations and an “unprecedented” agreement would be reached. Mr Obama, cool enough to swig from a water bottle without pouring out a glass, warned that the global recovery could not be built on American shoulders alone. “It can’t be just us in the engine room everyone’s got to pick up the pace,” said the President in a clear dig to French president Nicolas Sarkozy who is upping the ante by suggesting he was not happy with the way negotiations were going.

Mr Obama campaigned in poetry but he governs in prose, trying, I suppose, to lower the great expectations of him every time he opens his mouth. He pulled on the harpstrings of hope though. “Despite the current hardships, we are going to get through this. So you should plan sensibly in anticipation that this economy is going to recover. Young families are going to want to buy new homes and sooner or later that clunker of a car is going to wear out, so people will buy new cars.

"I would ask people to have confidence about their futures and that may mean in some cases spending now as investments for the future. Don’t short change the future for fear of the present.”

He might appear ponderous to us but Mr Obama can pull a soundbite out of the air with the grace of a butterfly hunter.

Invited to help out Mr Brown with some landslide victory advice, the president replied: “The only advice I would give Gordon Brown is the same advice I gave myself during the campaign, which is - every time, good policy is good politics.”
“If every day you are waking up saying, how can I make the best decisions to create jobs, help young people imagine a better future, provide more for the elderly, the sick, the vulnerable, sustain the planet, then the best part is you can wake up and look yourself in the mirror.

"And that I think is the kind of integrity Gordon Brown has shown in the past and will show in the future.”

Endorsements don’t get better than that. This could be a good few days for Gordon Brown, even though the agreement on the G20 "isn’t there yet” according to his spokesman. Sarkozy can be swung round and everyone will totter off to the Nato summit but after that it will be back to the grinding reality of being ten points behind in the opinion polls for Mr Brown.

I’ll tell you what though, Alistair Darling’s little noticed reduction in the business rate increase on Tuesday and the change in Gordon Brown’s rhetoric at the dispatch box on Wednesday, referring to potential Tory cuts in every constituency in the land, light up little red lights on the early election notice board for me.

Nothing definite yet but you can be sure the minute Airforce One is off the ground on Thursday evening Number 10 will be scrutinising the private polling. If Obama gives him a lift Brown will be considering a June election.

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