Saturday, March 07, 2009


Gordon Needs More Than 19 Congressional Standing Ovations

Much has been written about Gordon's spoeech to both houses of Congress. It has to be allowed, it was a really good speech. Apparently Brown bedcame obsessed with it and its composition took up huge amounts of time- in the circumstances time reasonably well spent one would have to admit. It must have been so wonderfully liberating for him, afder the less than supportive Commons to deliver a speech which was so well received: 19 standing ovations! But I can't help feeling the thing was essentially Brown's vanity project.

Congressmen and women agreed with all the gushing stuff he said about the USA we know he loves so much, but when it came to the tough bits- the bits about resisting protectionism- they remained glued to their seats. And some listeners on this side of the Atlantic, might have wondered why Brown made not a single mention of the fact he endlessly hammers back home: that the whole crisis began in the very place where he was making what the Mirror called his 'historic' speech.

But only a fool would have expected such finger pointing. The speech and the visit has gone some of the way to establish good relations with the shining new lithe 47 year old president- who would surely hammer the crumpled, chunky 58 year old Brown, should they ever get to play that game of tennis. Obama did not have to ring to congratulate Gordon on the speech but he did. He didn't have to praise the 'special relationship', but he did (it was a 'link and bond... that will not break') and he didn't have to mention the vexed area of Iraq, but he did, declaring Britain's loyalty over the conflict 'would never be forgotten'.

So, moving on to that other key objective of the speech, has it helped him at home? Martin Kettle suggested yesterday that it was extremely doubtful:

The reality is that very few speeches change the political weather. When they do, it is often because they define someone who was until then an unknown quantity. It is far harder for an already deeply familiar figure like Brown to recast his reputation overnight. Yet Brown is a man desperate for such a transformation. He is 16 points behind in the polls. Two-thirds of Labour voters think he is an electoral liability. Hence the overselling.

Kettle thinks Gordon still dreams of turning it around. The speech was the first leg of the master plan: job done. The second leg is the G20 meeting in London in April. Here he hopes to strut on its stage as the leader of the 'fiscal stimulus' economic school of thought, Europe-style. If he can win agreement, it will provide cover and an imprimatur, of sorts, for his third leg: a borrowed money giveaway budget on 22nd April.

My fear however, OK, call it a prediction if you like, is that: the speech will only prove important as a proud and key chapter in Gordon's memoirs; the G20 will resolve into empty statements of intent; and the budget will merely add to the government's slide in popularity which the 6th June Euro-elections will merely reinforce.

Can you imagine - he got 19 standing ovations? In a speech lasting 40 minutes. Would you jump up and down and clap your hands every two minutes if Gordon addressed you? On economics? One thought the members of the US Congress were all clear-eyed heroes of the West, the go-getting best and brightest of that proud nation. Apparently not. Just a bunch of carefully coiffed marionettes. Perhaps they are all hoping to be made a 'Sir' as the special relationship blossoms.....
I can only remember one standing ovation in the Commons at all, when Tony Blair made his valedictory speech - perhaps it reflects more a different culture and the fact that, as a foreign leader, there was no need for them to be partisan? I suspect you'd get more than 19 "hear hears" from the Labour benches in a Brown speech lasting 40 minutes in the Commons, which would presumably be much the same thing.
Yes, you are right re Blair, but the Commons never openly applauds: it waves order papers and sqwawks 'hear hear'. That standing ovation for TB whewhn he made his last speech was a huge compliment in the context of the House.
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