Saturday, 2 May 2009

Brown: You Are No John Major(!)

After no less a figure than blindly-loyal champagne socialist Polly Toynbee's latest bi-polar effort in today's Guardian, where she appeared finally to give-up on Brown and his government-of-all-the-giants, you might be forgiven for believing the game must finally be up for the auld fraud. I would, however, counsel caution, at least as far as this particular columnist is concerned.

Far better to listen to a man like Matt Parris, whose insight into the politics of failure now lying at the badly diseased heart of this undead Labour cabinet must surely rank as one of the most powerful broadsides ever delivered to a British government. For example:
I'm losing interest in kicking Gordon Brown. We deserve a moratorium on any further columns describing him as a “flawed hero”. Flawed, yes, but heroes possess qualities of heroism.

The Brown saga is less Shakespearean tragedy than Pinter farce. The Ozymandian statue will be inscribed, not “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” but “Gordon Brown - what were we thinking of?”. He's a talentless bully, that's all.

The more interesting question is about the nature of the Labour ranks through which a talentless bully appears to have risen with so little resistance, to the very top; and stayed there without challenge.

Here, then, is one good reason why Mr Brown deserves to keep his job. Because were he to relinquish it, it would be to someone who had known his leader's incapacity, seen it often and at first hand in Cabinet, yet never spoke. And that's worse than talentless. It's gutless.

To oblivion, then, with the whole damn lot.

I'm not convinced it's possible for a sitting Prime Minister to survive much of that. No one, but no one (not even Toynbee, it seems) can or wants to take him seriously any more. John Major, even at the lowest points in a premiership largely made up of low points, never attracted this kind of visceral opprobrium, apart from that which came in an endless, infantile torrent from the left-dominated (thanks mainly to the equally left-dominated BBC) UK 'comedy' industry. The lowest of the low points for Major came after the demolition of his credibility by the disaster (depending upon your point of view) that was ejection from the ERM. Major's response, though, was rather different from Brown's to his own horrors. He fought back, and won personal respect for it, even if his government was finished. As the Guardian leader of the day posited (very well):
John Major took a gamble with his political career because his party was divided. Yesterday he triumphantly won the gamble - but his party remains divided nevertheless. This continuing paradox will cast a long shadow over what today is simply a sun-drenched political achievement: a midsummer campaign launched in a rose garden nearly a fortnight ago, clinched in a sweaty Westminster corridor yesterday afternoon and awaiting consummation in a Cabinet reshuffle today. The result leaves Mr Major both stronger and weaker than he was before: stronger because he has unquestionably won well, but weaker because it is now clear for all to see that he leads two Conservative parties rather than one. Yet by any normal standards Mr Major has delivered the goods. Not for the first time, his enemies (and perhaps his supporters) have underestimated him, and not for the first time he has made them look silly on polling day. The result achieved his first and most necessary objective: victory. For good or ill, it means he will lead the party to the next election.
'Triumphantly'. Now there is a word no political historian or obituary writer will ever be able to associate with Mr Brown, who has only fought one election in his life (six times): for his safe seat in the House of Commons. It is worth noting, also, that at the time the split in the Tory party was made all the more serious because of the sheer gravitas of the dramatis personae. They make the current crop of Labour front bench third-rate am-dram thesps, all still desperately trying to be one with dramatic ministerial roles the complexity of which they can never hope to comprehend, look like snotty toddlers mumbling their way through a nativity play. Yet Major took the heavyweights in his own party on (not being short of heavyweight allies, of course) and won. The '95 Guardian again:
The result of this bitter election might encourage a stronger leader to seize the policy initiative and to punish the defeated. What better opportunity to lay down the line and make the bastards pay? No member of his Cabinet behaved less loyally throughout the campaign than Mr Portillo. Yet will Mr Major sack him today? It does not seem likely. Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom, said Burke...
Certainly ill-judged magnanimity was something of a Major flaw - and it made him weaker. However, there is nothing whatsoever that is magnanimous about Brown. He is probably one of the most spiteful, grudge-bearing bullies ever to hold public office. But what he also is that Major wasn't is a coward. Major won two more years of power by taking on the disloyal element in the Eurosceptic faction of his party. It might not have been particularly significant in terms of the outcome of the next General Election, but it was highly symbolic and gave him enough credibility and time at least to try to turn things around - and to get the economy right in time for the next administration. No saboteur he.
So credit where it is due. That's important. Yet let's also be frank. It is all a bit of a disappointment. It leaves one of the most unpopular Conservative leaders of all time in power for another stretch. It nips the possibility of an early election in the bud. The country is in the mood for new politics, new ideas and new approaches. But Mr Major does not offer any of that. However he dresses it up, his victory means more of the same. It means that a general election, which is unquestionably what the nation needs, is likely not to be called until perhaps 1997. The reshuffle is Mr Major 's reward for a bold stroke, but it will not be a new start. After 16 years it is difficult not to be impatient for something more.
How those words suddenly resonate again today, nearly 15 years on. There is a difference, however - and it's an absolutely key one. It concerns the two leaders and what sets them apart. Where Major was brave and earned the reward of time, Brown will be a coward this summer. No extra year for him. He missed his chance because he lacked the stomach for the fight in '07. Now there is nowhere left for him to run, no one to whom he can turn, no room for manoeuvre and no chance of turning a public that is once again 'impatient for something more'.

His time's up.

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