by RAY FLEMING
Gordon Brown's prebudget statement on Monday and David Cameron's victory statement yesterday gave us an interesting opportunity to measure the qualities of the two men who are likely to lead the fight at Britain's next general election in 2008 or 2009. Of course, that encounter may never take place; Mr Cameron inherits a job that has got the better of three other leaders in short order and we simply do not know whether he will prove to be more politically adroit than they were. All that the leadership contest has determined is that the constituencies think Mr Cameron is a better bet than Mr Davis. It is also possible, but less likely, that Mr Brown will fall by the wayside before the general election comes into view and Mr Blair backs out of the limelight. Mr Cameron's acceptance speech was as devoid of policy content as his campaign for the leadership has been. He spoke of his commitment to “compassionate Conservatism” and of his dislike of “Punch and Judy politics”. He also rejected “opposition for opposition's sake” implying that he will not be afraid of supporting a Labour government if he thinks it is right to do so. This raises an interesting question. We know nothing of Mr Cameron's views on Iraq. Would he have supported Tony Blair's decision to go to war? The duty of the Opposition is to oppose and that duty it signally failed to carry out in the case of Iraq. Mr Brown's pre-budget speech was predictable. Although he had to admit that his growth forecast of a year ago had been over-optimistic and needed to be adjusted, he was still able to point to the fact that Britain is enjoying its 34th continuous quarter of growth. If this run continues he will be able to claim conclusively that Labour has ended the curse of a “boom and bust” economy. The Chancellor's TV and radio interviews yesterday morning were more interesting politically than his pre-budget speech. In his encounter with James Naughtie on BBC Radio's Today programme he made news by replying “exactly” when asked if a Brown government would be the same as a Blair government. James Naughtie could not be believe what he had heard and asked Mr Brown to repeat it, which he unhesitatingly did.

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