Friday, December 08, 2006


Brown Likely to be 'Formidable Leader'?

An intriguing question from Polly Toynbee today is whether Gordon Brown can cut the mustard as PM. There is no doubting his intellectual brilliance, she says, dominating his subject and the House from the Despatch Box,

'But a great Prime Minister needs political genius. So far we don't know if Brown has it. Within a few months he may prove to be a character too inflexible, too inward and just too serious for the top job.'

On the other hand 'we could possibly have the most formidable leader in many years.' Which is it likely to be? Well I have to confess to being agnostic to highly dubious on this one, for the following reasons:

i) Those hoping for a brand new direction from Brown are likely to be diappointed. His record shows he is probably as much a believer in 'Blairite' New Labourism as the progenitor himself. Creating the US-private sector leaning right of centre approach was a joint project- indeed, the most flagrant example, PFI, was Gordon's personal enthusiasm.

ii) Everything Brown has done during his recent 'charm offensive' with pictures of him and his children and flattering image enhancing articles, seem to have left voters cold. The fact is he lacks the one quality-wit, a gift for lightness of touch, self deprecation, in other words charm- Tony has in juggernaut lorry loads.

iii) Brown's performance earlier this autumn, when he appeared to be choreographing a putsch against his leader did not reveal him a good light.

iv) Further to the last piont, Charles Clarke's extraordinary broadside against Brown's lack of collegiallity and other failings must have been rooted in some sort of reality along with the judgement, attributed to John Hutton, that he would make a 'fucking terrible prime minister'.

v) Finally, and most importantly, Polly doesn't stress sufficiently where we are in the broader political cycle. Once we'd had Tories for a decade the experience was more than beginning to pall. So it is with Labour. Under Tony, Labour has already enjoyed its 'salad days' and voters are already limbering up for someone new. And Gordon is by no means new.

To reverese all these negatives Brown will indeed need to be a political genius and, whilst I sincerely hope I'm wrong, I don't believe he is anywhere near being one.

Although for obvious reasons I hope you're right Skipper I have to say it may be more complicated than that.

I've posted previously on how Brown's advisers could easily turn his weaknesses to their advantage - I wouldn't be surprised if within a few months of him taking over we start to get 'leaks' about how frustrated Gordon always was with the image-obsessed, personality-driven politics of the Blair era. This would both distance himself from Blair and be an implied criticism of Cameron.

His advisers surely know they'll never do the 'ordinary bloke' thing better than Dave and so they won't even try - they'll happily let Cameron don the 'Blair's heir' outfit. This way the 'time for a change' factor you allude to might actually work in Brown rather than Cameron's favour
Personally I think his biggest problem could be the one that as far as I can see he antagonises people too much. Politics is so much about leading a tema especailly at this point in the cycle.
Your sugestion that Brown and Cameron might transpose their positions in the eyes of the electorate with the latter seeming to be like Blair-and thus disadavantaged- and Brown a differentiated version of himself is neat but too fanciful for me to accept as possible.
Agree broadly Skipper: especially with points (i) and (v). But then again the qualities voters seek in a PM are not necessarily charm and affability. It is possible voters might see Brown as difficult, up-tight, and a bit of a bully, and yet also find him "substantial" and "serious" and "weighty" and "competent" and so on (that's what the polls seem to show). After all, one could hardly accuse that witch Thatcher of having "charm". I doubt that even Tory voters actually liked her; the trouble was that - bizarrely -they respected her. Kinnock was likeable: but he didn't look remotely like a Prime Minister. Brown would be smart to play it as cassilis suggests.
having heard brown speak several times both "live" and on tv to an audience he doesn't know, I've got to say that as much as I am currently backing him and as much as i struggle to find a better fture leader from labour mps, his ability to speak to an audience is terrible. he's only ever been comfortable doing that, imo, when speaking in the HoC or somewhere else where he is already familiar with (the bulk of, at least) the audience.

i've also heard rumours that he wants to rework the ministries, merging some and creating others, and that his ideas are best laid out in the donald dewey (sp?) memorial lecture he gave.

as for charles clarke's comments, see my blog in a couple of hours time from this post, as i have some news to report on that.
oh, i did mean to say the gb is reat speaking in one-to-one sessions from what i've seen on tv - even when there's an audience (its about who he's addressing, his whole style changes). i think its important that a leader has the abilityto be a figure head for britain. whether politicos like ourselves want that or not, the majority of the countr will be swayed by it. blair had that ability, but i've yet to see it from gb. its the ability to simultaneously speak to and for the 'nation' - as tony blair demonstrated after 7/7. martin luther king's I Have A Dream speech is a textbook example of this quality/skill - does gb have that? I honestly dont know. I'm doubtful.
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