Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Despatches Questions Gordon's 'Stalinist' Character

Right on cue, following my post yesterday, last night's Dispatches on Channel Four did for Gordon what Peter Hitchens, on the same series a short time back, did for David Cameron. Fronted by right-leaning journalist, Peter Oborne, this programme consulted an impressive array of both friends and enemies to discuss the question of whether Gordon could adapt to the demands of the top job after which he has always craved. From his friends, people like former Treasury minister and architect of PFI, Geoffrey Robinson, popped up to say how jolly, warm, convivial and witty he is and how everyone has got it so wrong about the 'brooding dour Scot' kind of thing.

But on the debit side we saw a vast chorus of people- Labour insider Derek Draper, former Cabinet minister, Clare Short, Former top Europe adviser Sir Stephen Wall plus many others... Sir Andrew Turnbull and Cherie Blair were not even included- stepped up to attest that he was... well... impossible. He waged obsessive feuds against the likes of Mandelson, Cook, Mowlam, Milburn, just to mention a few. Sometimes it was an ancient slight- as in the case of Cook's refusal to acknowledge his share of authorship of a paper written when both were rival comrades in Scottish Labour back in the Middle Ages. Sometimes it was fear that this fast up-moving colleague- Milburn? Mowlam?- might pose a threat to his own leadership ambitions. Oh, yes, and he didn't like Tony Blair much either.

We also had it confirmed that he was only happy in the bosum of his intimates of whose loyalty there was not a scintilla of doubt. When unhappy, he was capable of huge sulks, sitting in a room full of people, glowering angrily and refusing to speak; he would attend Cabinet and sit through it silently while insultingly working on his own pile of papers. He would refuse to answer letters which he did not like or release papers to fellow ministers if he did not feel like it. He hates anyone to disagree with him. 'Control freakery' of a frightening pitch, to be precise. In fact, we learnt that Turnbull's 'Stalinist' label was as clearly disturbingly close to the truth. These were insiders talking, people who had worked with him and mostly had no obvious reason to badmouth him.

Oh dear! We've just about to see the back of that fluffy, posturing, vain, Bush worshipping Blair but now perceive the Big bad Wolf of Gordon Brown growling his way into Number 10. Should we all, as I suspect Oborne would wish- run screaming into the voting booths in 2009 and vote for Dave Cameron? I think not. Brown may well be a difficult, obsessive and infuriating guy- and he may well continue to display these traits, to a degree in office- but one cannot argue with his record of unique achievement in running a successful economy without crisis for ten years. Can any Chancellor be named who has done better over the last 100 years?

Politicians are often awkward, highly ambitious and self regarding people and have some monster-like characteristics even in democracies. Brown has earned his chance to steer the ship, but if his 'psychological flaws' worsen or the economy implodes, as some predict, then voters can register their verdict in two years time- that's the sometimes unrecognized beauty of our democracy compared to Stalin's autocracy.

Just don't say you weren't warned.
My post was designed precisely to pre-empt such pleading.
Brown has indeed had a good run as Chancellor, but I would note two points.

First, he has not implemented any major changes to the economy; he certainly hasn’t gone back to Labour of the 70s. All he has done is tinker with what he was left by the Tories, with some increased public expenditure, but I doubt he has been any great thinker or innovator.

Second, there is a view that Brown has prospered at the Treasury because he has a small group of loyal advisers whose interests – maintaining growth and not doing anything too radical – haven’t required much leadership from Brown. Once he gets to No. 10, however, and has to deal with a myriad of people whose views and demands are incompatible, he will find the job very much more difficult than anything he’s faced at No. 11.

One further point that rubs me up the wrong way is that Brown was reported in the Guardian as claiming he wasn’t just going to be a new face, but a “new government”. That being so, it is incumbent on him to call an election, which he has ruled out doing. So much for democracy.

Oh and a final point – Brown lied brazenly and appallingly about the schoolgirl Laura Spence, in a pitiful sop to ‘old Labour’, with a bit of ‘class war’. That is not the conduct we are entitled to expect from a Prime Minister.
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