The second Brown bounce is well and truly over according to opinion polls. The punters have turned more strongly against Gordon Brown than at any time since Tony Blair left Downing Street.  Twittering yesterday I’ve gone on the record predicting a Tory majority of 100.

And the news just keeps getting worse and worse for Gordon Brown…

  • In an echo of the cash-for-questions row that helped bring John Major down we learn this morning that "Labour peers are prepared to accept fees of up to £120,000 a year to amend laws in the House of Lords on behalf of business clients, a Sunday Times investigation has found."
  • Meanwhile The Observer puts a price tag on the recession: "Every taxpayer in the country has lost almost £40,000 since the onset of the credit crunch, as plunging house prices and the savage sell-off in stock markets have obliterated £1.2 trillion of Britain’s national wealth."
  • The News of the World makes it more personal: "The average value of houses and flats is falling by £764 a week as prices continue to nosedive—yet the average pay packet is £479."

This is all deadly stuff for Brown.  He has thrown the taxpayers’ kitchen sink at the recession but missed.  He’s twice bottled the chance of an early election and he’ll now head to the country with Britain mired in the worst recession of the developed world and voters facing big tax rises to pay off his eye-watering levels of borrowing.  His key lieutenants still lack any idea of how to sensibly attack David Cameron.  The reputation of David Miliband – the man once tipped as his party’s saviour – is sinking faster than sterling.  Labour’s misrule will end with a landslide defeat.

Of course there is no room for complacency and I see no signs of complacency in the Tory team.  The reshuffle produced a sharper team.  Eric Pickles is redoubling efforts against the Liberal Democrats.  I understand that candidates in target seats are about to face a new, tougher management regime.

I write all of this – not, I hope, for indulgent reasons – but because it should have implications for how the Conservatives conduct themselves from now on.  The Tory leadership cannot and should not, of course, take one single vote for granted but it must not repeat the mistakes of Tony Blair and arrive in Whitehall so ill-prepared.  Here are four immediate thoughts on behaviours that should characterise a ‘government-ready’ frontbench:

  • No rushed policies. There is no need to make announcements that aren’t thoroughly thought-through.  I’m thinking of badly-received schemes like the employment subsidy.
  • The work of Francis Maude’s preparation-for-government unit needs beefing up.  Does it have enough resources?  Just before Christmas one of the most senior members of the shadow cabinet told me that he had had no significant engagement with Mr Maude’s team.  The success of this unit will have a big influence on our first term performance as a government.
  • We need to think of using the likes of Peter Lilley, Stephen Dorrell, Michael Howard, John Redwood and others in government. We have been out of office for many years; as Labour had been in 1997.  People who have run Whitehall departments should be used to help new ministers with zero Whitehall experience.
  • A relentless focus on a long-term vision for Britain’s economic future. See here.

Tim Montgomerie