It’s good to be the front-runner but it brings special dangers for a politician. A few weeks ago Gordon Brown was surprising us all with his calm leadership in the face of various national disasters. He was way ahead in the polls and the Statesman asked if the next election was already won. Now after his election wobble and tax policy dodge he is behind in the polls and his authority lies in ruins. Could this happen to Hillary?

I have just come back from the States where Hillary Clinton is significantly ahead in the race to be Democrat candidate for the Presidential election next year. She has achieved this by down-playing all the more liberal and feminist policies that made her a hero of places like Manhattan where I was last week.

But some analysts fear that her tactics may trip her up in the long-run, just like Gordon’s ideology-free race for the centre ground may have done for his credibility. Here’s a description of her dilemma by the excellent Adam Nagourney of the New York Times:

In trying to appeal both to the Democrats’ liberal base and to a more centrist general-election audience, Mrs. Clinton, like her husband before her, risks feeding into the assessment of critics that she is more about political calculation than about conviction. The point has been driven home these past few days in her efforts to present herself as the antiwar hawk: vowing to an audience of Democrats to end the war in Iraq while voting in Congress for a harder line against Iran, a move that some Democrats argue could lead to another war.

 Gordon Brown has also tried to ride both horses. The media accepted his statement that he was a ‘conviction’ politician in the mould of Margeret Thatcher. So why did he then flip-flop on an election and inheritance tax?

I noted when Brown came to power that it offered a chance for a new style of politics. Perhaps, I suggested, the public might want a more honest, less ‘pretty’ form of politics where the politicians and the media concentrated on policy rather than presentation. David Cameron’s Conservatives certainly came up with the policies, although I am still not clear what principles they really stand for. But as for Gordon he has already paid the price of the front-runner who lacks a sense of direction. It will be interesting to see how Mrs Clinton handles the same balancing act between authenticity and expediency.

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