Thursday, June 19, 2008


After a Year, the Judgement has Crystalised

It's a view many of us Labour supporters have tried to resist but one which we have reluctantly come to accept as probably right: 'He is Simply not up to the job'. This is not to say that he is not astonishingly assiduous or hugely intellectually capable; merely that in the crucial skills of being the man at the political helm, he has proved lacking over the past twelve months.

As Andrew Rawnsley has noted, it all started with that 'election that never was'; I wondered at the time if it would prove to be turning point and it very much has. Jonathan Freedland in yesterday's Guardian suggests it was not so much the event itself as the negative quality we had not realised Gordon had: indecisiveness. And his pathetic refusal subsequently to admit it was the change in the polls which had caused his U turn; that was taking us all as complete fools and such assumptions are seldom forgiven easily.

Connected with this is an alternative explanation: Brown lacks that quality he alleges most to admire: courage. When it comes to the sticking point, he can rage and accuse but he hides away from confrontations, from accepting thee blame when things turn out wrong. Blair infuriated us with his self righteous belief in his own rectitude, but he did not lack the courage needed to advance his convictions.

Another quality which his year in office has lacked is precisely that used as an excuse for not calling that election: vision; quite honestly, there has not been any. When in doubt he has retreated to the 'Blair comfort zone on public services and even on Iraq, cuddling up to Geroge Bush during his recent visit whereas his initial approach had been to establish a judicious distance.

Maybe his major failing though, is to have proved so incompetent at the business of communication. In a democracy this is the prime quality a politician requires: to persuade colleagues, party members, the political class and ultimately us the voters, that he or she has the right answers. Brown has been so wooden, so uninspiring. Some suggested in the run-up to last June's handover that voters would find this a pleasant change from all that bogus charm and spin.

But it would seem that we still need lashings of charm and a prime minister who can project powerfully and sympathetically. Cameron's critics used to say the Tories did not need someone so obviously created in the image of Tony Blair: he has proved them wrong. Voters, like maidens in search of a partner, do not like to be duped by their potential lovers, but they still expect to be wooed and courted in a way that pleases them.

Freedland puts his finger on it for me when he suggests that Brown, who plotted and fulminated against the man he was so desperate to replace, in reality needed him. One way of looking at this is that they compensated for each others failings: Brown provided the hard work and attention to detail; Blair the flair for communication and the bottle to take tough decisions.

Indeed this does have the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy: all that gut churning envious calculation for ten years, only to find the prize turning to ashes in his hands:

It would take a Shakespeare to do justice to a story that combines the jealousy of Othello, the ambition of Macbeth and the indecision of Hamlet.

Brown’s premiership and the Labour government are finished, and quite rightly so. In fact, the end can’t come too soon. They had the opportunity for real change but perpetuated and expanded already failed Tory policies. Now look at us. It is a terrible thought, but when the pathetic David Cameron wins the next election, he will offer nothing as an alternative.
Despite my own leanings Bill I was one of those who suggested that Gordon's dour demeanour and serious tone might actually be an electoral assett - particularly if Cameron kept up the Blair MkII act.

I clearly got it wrong. For me it's his tribalism that lets him down. Blair clearly believed in the decency of most Tories but just thought they got the arguments wrong - Brown has a very adolescent and conforntational attitude to politics. In fact, for someone so well-read it's staggeringly ill-informed and he really believes the Tories (and by implication anyone who's ever supported them which is a bag part of the Labour vote) is evil & nasty and not to be trusted.

Consequently he never really engages with his opponents - just smears them and reads long lists of stats. On one level it's a banal observation but on another it says it all - people just don't warm to him, it's as simple as that.
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