Brown makes a promising start

IF I was a Labour Party member I'd probably be feeling a lot better today than I was a week ago after the election of Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman to the top two roles in the party.

IF I was a Labour Party member I'd probably be feeling a lot better today than I was a week ago after the election of Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman to the top two roles in the party.

Of course nothing is going to change overnight, but you do get the feeling that the new team at the top of the party are at least listening to their members . . . and the country as a whole.

However my fear is that while Harriet Harman might make the kind of noise that the members want to hear, I'm not at all convinced that Mr Brown will pay as much attention to them as they would like.

John Prescott was supposed to be the link between Mr Blair and the party.

But where was he when the party was complaining about the British government schmoozing up to the most right-wing American government for a generation?

Where was Mr Prescott when Labour Party members were demonstrating against privatisation of services?

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Where was Mr Prescott when lifelong pacifists in the party were asking why a government led by a former CND member was signing up to renew Trident?

In voting for Ms Harman, who made much about the fact she now thinks the Iraq adventure was a mistake and about the need to reconnect with the ordinary party members, the rank and file has shown it wants to be listened to.

But whether that message will prompt Mr Brown to alter the way he behaves as Prime Minister is another matter entirely, and I'm not holding my breath.

Neither am I expecting an early general election.

The new Labour leadership will no doubt be buoyed by last weekend's opinion poll putting the party back ahead of the Conservatives.

And their confidence won't be too shattered by this week's second poll which gave the Tories a slight lead.

The fact is that for an opposition to feel confident and a government to feel despondent, the gap needs to be much, much wider than we have seen at any time over the last ten years.

Governments always pick up votes during the campaign as their disgruntled supporters ultimately realise they'd rather have “their” party with all its faults than the opposition.

That's why even a few days before the 1997 election there were still some Labour politicians who were not sure they would win. But the over-riding reason there won't be a general election this year or next year is that there is no need for it.

When we voted in 2005 we all knew Tony Blair would resign before the next election - and everyone except Cherie knew he'd go sooner rather than later.

What's more we all knew that Gordon Brown was going to succeed him, despite the Blairite sycophants desperately trying to find a political pygmy willing to sacrifice their career as a stalking horse.

So in 2005 people voted Blair to get Brown - and that means the new prime minister does have a mandate, at least a strong enough one to run until 2009 or even 2010.

And let's face it the country doesn't want a general election at the moment. People see no need for one.

The Tories might want one, but they don't call the shots yet, and the Liberal Democrats might say they want one. But frankly given their leadership crisis they must be dreading the next election!

So I'm confident Mr Brown will have at least a couple of years to make his mark on the country before we go to the polls again.

LAST week's derailment on the bridge outside Ely was a disaster for the local rail network, closing the direct route from Suffolk to the midlands and north of England for a possible three months.

I must say I found the shrug of the shoulders by some people at rail operator 'one' slightly disappointing at this news.

We were told only one train an hour uses the bridge, as if that means it doesn't matter.

That is entirely the wrong message. This is a vital route and if we are going to persuade people not to get in their cars and drive along the A14 there has to be a fast, regular alternative.

There should be at least one train an hour between Ipswich and Ely where passengers can change on to direct trains to Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester.

Shrugging the shoulders and saying that journeys will only take one hour longer is not acceptable.

This accident was not 'one's fault and many of their staff will be very frustrated by all the problems it is causing.

What they now need to do is plan for the line's reopening and consider turning the route into what it should be - a much higher-intensity cross-country service.

With a more regular service to Peterborough and all the connections that offers, Ipswich could really have a sensible alternative to the A14.

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