Gordon Brown gets back on to the political stage today.  The Telegraph gives prominent coverage to their interview with him and yesterday’s retreat of British forces from the centre of Basra is likely to be soon followed by further troop withdrawals.  This is the start of Mr Brown’s September offensive.  That offensive will determine whether he re-establishes a significant opinion poll advantage and gambles on an October General Election.

Speaking to the NCVO Mr Brown has announced that two backbench Conservative MPs will advise his Government.  I’m not yet clear what role John Bercow will perform but he will, as predicted by Ben Brogan, undertake an advisory role.  Patrick Mercer’s agreement to advise Lord West on security is much more of a surprise and perhaps reflects Mr Mercer’s continuing disappointment at Mr Cameron’s treatment of him last year.  Both men are certainly aiding Mr Brown’s attempt to portray his administration as a government that can unite the country.

11am update from BBC Online: "Patrick Mercer, forced to quit as Tory homeland security spokesman after a row over alleged racist comments, is to advise Lord West on security matters.  Fellow Conservative MP John Bercow is to head a review into support to children with learning difficulties.  Mr Brown also said that the Lib Dem MP Matthew Taylor would be advising the government on future land-use policy."

11.30am, Caroline Spelman statement:
“Patrick Mercer and John Bercow both have expertise in these fields and if this is a genuine attempt to involve talented people from other political parties, then it is welcome. David Cameron has always made clear that he would work with Gordon Brown on issues where we agree and both Patrick Mercer and John Bercow discussed their intention to join these reviews with the party in advance.  But it is important some of Gordon Brown’s other ideas finally result in action.  He has talked about many of these ideas throughout the last ten years but failed to deliver on them.  The Government has announced the idea of citizens juries no less than 15 times since 1997."  This statement says that Bercow and Mercer discussed their new roles with the party before they were announced.  My understanding is that the party leadership (reluctantly or otherwise) gave the two men their blessing so there will be no chance of disciplinary action against them – as some have urged in the thread below.