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31st May, 2009
There were many who foresaw the death of New Labour as we witnessed but were powerless to prevent the political “death” of Tony Blair, not just me, I hasten to add. So here’s another writer to whom we might have paid attention, if we had a fraction of the political nous of the previous prime minister. I would disagree with some of the below, for instance – there was more at play in summer 2004, almost leading to Blair’s resignation. And I do not see Brown as the “first-class brain” and Blair as “the second-class”. It all depends on one’s definition of “first class”. And of “brain”.
From Richard Newbury – at Views Across The Channel
Events, I feel, bear out what I wrote on Brown as PM in Lo Specchio in March 2007.
Since for 10 years Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has been the Labour Government’s “bean counter” or Chief Accountant and through controlling the purse strings the arbiter of domestic policy – often contrary to both Blair and his Cabinet colleagues wishes – it is best to start with the statistics. Ladbrokes the bookmakers make Brown 10-1 on to succeed Blair when he steps down probably after the G8 climate change summit in June. That means that you would need to bet £100 to win £10 [minus taxes]. 52% of Labour members want him and a majority of the other two thirds of the electoral college: the MPs and the Unions do too.
However opinion polls show that Blair handing over to Brown moves David Cameron’s Tories from level-pegging under Blair, even when under police investigation, to an outright election winning Conservative 13 point lead. At the May 2005 election where Blair despite the Iraq War won an historic third term with a comfortable 58 majority the most telling poll was in The Times. If 0 was the average voter, Blair was 5 points to his right, Howard the then Conservative leader was 57 points to the right while Brown was 20 points to the left. The voters fear a Brown Government as “Forward to Yesterday”. Brown and the Old Labour nostalgics saw New Labour as a device to make Socialism relevant to the market and accuse Blair, who never uses Socialist but Progressive, as Not Labour in believing that only the market discipline of private management can produce customer-centred, not producer-centred, public services free at the point of delivery. But Not Labour is what the electorate voted when they voted Blair to serve another five years. They did not vote for an electionless Brown coup after two years.
However among Cabinet colleagues, MPs and the electorate and above all women, it is not just a question of policies but of personality. “It is never difficult to spot the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance,” wrote P G Wodehouse. Not only has Brown held a rancorous grudge against Tony Blair getting the leadership since 1994 when a BBC poll for Party leader was Blair 47%, Prescott 15% and Brown 11%, but in Brown’s relations with colleagues there are only slavish “friends” or enemies to be “destroyed” in a Manichean zero sum game. There are now no rival candidates because the potential challengers have all been destroyed. This represents a monumental political feat which will see Brown become Party leader almost unopposed and thus an unelected Prime Minister.
The electorate who do not see his warmth and wit among close Scottish male friends, do not like his devious disloyalty. It shows a lack of team spirit. The first time in 10 years the public saw the country’s dour Presbyterian bank manger smile was on leaving No 10 last September when Brown thought he had successfully carried out a coup against Tony. The English do not like gloating, especially in one who shows so little political experience of 24hour news as to do so in public. Worst of all however was to reveal his lack of political courage in actually failing to assassinate Blair. In fact Brown’s refusal to move to other great Ministries has left him inexperienced in handling multiple problems rather than just economic strategic thinking. Faced with multiple dilemmas he rages and flounders, his Treasury team of civil servants complain.
Brown therefore is an unknown quantity not only to his Cabinet colleagues but also to the public. “Fuck knows” replied a Home Secretary, who has known Brown since student politics, when asked what a Brown government would be like. “Uncollegiate”, “a control freak”, “lacking confidence” are the polite terms. “Psychologically flawed”, “semi-autistic” and “the social skills of a whelk” are less so, as is “all the charisma of a coffin lid.” That is why despite the fact that Brown is a formidable, brutal and highly intelligent political strategist with what Blair calls his “clunking great fist”, Labour MPs have the sensation that they may be sleep walking into a nightmare after jettisoning what the Conservatives consider the invincible Blair. “I checked Blair was leaving before I applied for the job of Party leader,” admitted Cameron.
In this intense Shakespearean drama of opposites between two best friends who shared an office since entering Parliament in 1983 what has made this anti-Blair? Brown is “a son of the manse” like so many high-achieving Scots. Rev John Brown, Minister of the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland in Kirkaldy, where the mines and textiles mills were closing, preached and practised Christian Socialism, teaching his son Gordon to suppress his ego in the service of others, that work was good for everyone and poverty an atrocious waste of God-given potential. Constraining those on benefits to seek work, providing compulsory training while subsidising “hard-working families” has been central to Brown’s running domestic social policy as Chancellor. The problem for Brown is that he feels he has not yet received his just reward –from either Providence or the Prime Minister.
This suppression of ego and sense of service has led to Brown’s fatal lack of political decisiveness. Brown may bully, but in Lady Macbeth’s words he is “infirm of purpose”. In 1978 he turned down a winnable Scottish seat out of loyalty to his unwinnable one. Thus he missed being in Parliament five years before Blair. In 1992 he was too loyal to his political “father” John Smith to stand against him for Party Leader with Blair as his Deputy Leader. In 1994, on Smith’s death, Blair said it was his turn. Brown had missed his. In April 2004 Blair with heart problems, and disgusted with the Americans’ “betrayal” of Abu Grahib and refusal to listen to British advice, told Brown he was resigning. Brown told him he would not be ready until the summer. Blair returned from his summer holidays determined to stay on. Brown’s failed coups in 2003, 2005 and 2006 showed the Party and the country “he did not have the stomach for the fight” in the words of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
Personal courage Brown has in abundance. An accidental kick in the head in a rugby match at 16 left him blind with two detached retina. One eye was lost and the other badly damaged and now deteriorating – another reason for a speedy hand-over. Notwithstanding, he went to Edinburgh University two years early at 16, took a brilliant degree in History at 19 and a PhD in Labour Party history at 22. His form of 1968 revolt was to become the first studentUniversity Rector. His girlfriend was the beautiful “red” Princess Margarita of Romania with Romanov, Hohenzollern and Windsor blood. Sport and politics were this male chauvinist pig’s passions and she, like his other successive long-suffering girlfriends, left him sadly saying. “I never stopped loving him, but one day it didn’t seem right any more. It was politics, politics, politics, and I needed nurturing.” Indeed by 27 he was President of the Scottish Labour Party, by 31 an MP and by 36 in the Shadow Cabinet, but he still lived in his student flat in Edinburgh so chronically untidy that when it was burgled, but untouched, the Police Inspector investigating said he had never seen such a bad case of vandalism. His problem was that what turned the relationship of Brown and Blair into Blair and Brown was that Blair, uninterested in politics until he met Cherie, learnt assiduously everything Brown had to teach. Blair in turn told Brown “you’ll never be Labour Leader until you have a wife and children.”
After 10 years of Sarah’s patience and tears and questions on the BBC as to whether he was a homosexual, Brown married Sarah Macaulay in 2000. Typically they were married at his terraced house near Edinburgh by the local Minister Rev Sheila Monro with 30 guests drinking supermarket special offer sparkling wine and the catering by the local TechnicalCollege. The honeymoon was Economy Class Virgin to Cape Cod to a standard hotel room without sea view. Sarah, who ran a PR company, has civilised the 18 hour a day workaholic, who is indifferent to art, food and fine wines and has removed the carpet from his Treasury room as superfluous. Personally courageous and a mark of their faith has been their reaction to the tragic death at 10 days old of their daughter Jennifer, and the discovery that their third child Fraser– they have second son Sam – has incurable Cystic Fibrosis.
Brown the parsimonious Scot despises the rich Southern English middle classes and as a good Presbyterian seeks by every means to redistribute their wealth and their pensions. Unlike them he sees wealth as a cake; not yeast. However electorally 25 million live within 100 miles of London; 5 million live on Scotland – on English subsidies!
Brown has until June 2010 before he will be obliged to face the Electorate. He brings huge, but largely untested, abilities and a lifetime of the study of politics to the job, but events not ideas or strategy dominate a Prime Minister’s days. Labour politicians, the Opposition and the voting public all feel they are taking “a leap in the dark” with Brown despite his 10 years as No 2 in the Government. By 2010 we shall know. Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes said of Roosevelt, “A second-rate brain and a first rate temperament is OK, because you can buy in first-rate brains.” Well that was Blair. Will the reverse apply, and work, with Brown?
John Reid was 6 votes away from challenging Brown – not that Reid’s leadership would have made much difference to Labour’s present dire state. ONLY Blair could have saved them, as Cameron knew, and even Blair, right now, with some difficulty.
Now HERE’s a Good Guy – inspired by Tony Blair.
Tags: Brown Blair, Richard Newbury