Friday, July 13, 2007


Brown is Restoring Traditional PM from Blair's 'Presidentcy'

One of the standard questions I have set for politics students over most of the past decade has been 'Has Tony Blair become more of a president than a prime minister?' Students have tended to like the question and have generally answered it well. It now seems obvious that Gordon Brown could have produced the definitive alpha plus answer: he must have hated Tony's posing and posturing to make himself so much grander than his position merited.

It has not only been appropriate for Gordon to differentiate himself from Tony: the former also wants to downgrade the office to something more traditional. Tony's 'presidential' tendencies were evident in a number of ways: he was impatient with formal procedures and wanted to short circuit them; he preferred personal decision-making with a small group-'sofa government'; he wanted to feature in 'eye catching initiatives' to put him at the centre of events; he had little respect for Parliament and treated Cabinet as a committee which received reports rather than discussed policy. He liked to swan about the world on 'presidential' business as he sought to save civilisation.

We see Gordon intent on dismantling these faux presidential illusions. So Parliament is to be re-enthroned at the centre of the constitution; Cabinet is to discuss genuine major policy issues-the 'sofa' has been thrown on the Number 10 skip along with the Blair media 'celebrity' flummery. His style is to be cautious, more traditional; more in keeping with a modest, more low key Scottish personality. All this is necessary to make his regime to appear 'new' so that voters won't associate their tolerance fatigue for 'Blair's New Labour' with 'Gordon Labour', but it is also conveniently congruent with a Church of Scotland Son of the Manse from Kirkaldy.

Interesting. Britain has a history of celebrity-like Prime Ministers - at least in my lifetime. Eden, Macmillan, Wilson, even Grocer Heath were never shy of an opportunity to present themselves to the public via the trivia-obsessed media or to short-circuit Parliament if they could get away with it.

Thatcher and Blair took this characteristic to extremes but they were also the two longest serving PMs.

It'll be fascinating to see how Gordon Brown's approach goes down with those vital swing voters in the few marginal seats that decide our fate at general elections. He might do well by being 'not Blair' to Cameron's 'new Blair' but I doubt that this would carry him through more than one election.

I hope he doesn't go the way of 'quiet man' IDS, the most recent leader to try to present himself as a really serious politician...
I know your anti-casino, but Brown's intervention here shows he's just as capable of making decisions presidential style.
I put my hands up to that very fair point. We'll have to see how he operates for a few months before we reach any final conclusions.
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