Monday, 26 May 2008

Gordon Brown's agony

There have been may column inches written of late about Gordon Brown. Whereas most commentators seem to be concentrating on his present problems I want to first go back to last summer because it's easy to forget just how good his ratings were back then.

I don't consider myself to be particularly left wing or right wing in my political outlook and in truth I don't see a lot of difference between the philosophies of the two major parties today. So I think I can look at things with a fair degree of objectivity in a way that many political bloggers can't. Turn the clock back to last summer and to many Gordon Brown could do no wrong. In fact he was getting approval from some of the right of centre press as he broadened his government to include advisers outside the labour party and tackled the various crises that arose: terrorist attacks, flooding and foot and mouth. Now I've stated in an earlier blog entry that these crises of last summer did not really extend him, yes he appeared calm and resolute and I wouldn't want to minimize the seriousness of these events, but I'm sure many others would have been equally proficient in their response. Take the failed terrorist attacks for instance, they can't be compared with the IRA bombing in Brighton during the Tory party conference. Nor with John Major and his cabinet under mortar attack in 10 Downing Street, again that was the IRA if I remember correctly. What I'm saying is that events were giving Brown more of a gloss than was justified.

Of course Brown also gained popularity in the early days of his premiership by not being Blair and unlike the Blairs didn't seem to love celebrity culture or be in adoration of personal wealth. In fact the high standing of both he and his party were strong contributory factors to the plight he is in today. If you think this is an odd thing to say let me put it this way. Part way through a parliament we have a change of prime minister without reference to the electorate, somewhat controversial but I don't have too much of a problem with this. OK there is an argument that says with narrowing differences between the parties we are increasingly voting for the person who would be prime minister and yes Blair had said he would see through his third term but not do a fourth. But in theory we are voting for a party with a published manifesto, not a president. It was because Brown's position appeared to be so strong that he was egged on by some of his supporters to get a personal mandate from the country. But after the Tories had an inspired annual conference support for Labour ebbed away to the extent that Cameron felt able to taunt Brown about the latter bottling out (I think it may well have been Osborne who first talked about "bottling out"). Future events were to lead to accusations of dithering and lacking courage and it is abundantly clear that whereas Brown wants to restrict PMQs and other forums to discussions on policy Cameron wants to keep the spotlight on Brown the person.

It might seem unduly harsh but the personality of a premier and his or her perception in the media has become increasingly important. I dare say Gordon Brown has personal qualities to admire but in today's world he just isn't the right person for the job. Contrast him with Tony Blair who had faults aplenty but at least was the right person if anyone was to be prime minister. Having said this Gordon needs to be his own person, I don't know who told him to smile but there have been times when he has suddenly grinned in the most unnatural way and at the oddest moments. Blair on the other hand could look reasonably normal with his particular smile.

I want to briefly mention the 10p tax rate business, a problem solely created by Brown it has to be said. Let's remember that it was over 5 million who were finding themselves worse off with the abolition of that rate. The population of the whole country, men, women and children is I think about 60 million. So the number of people being disadvantaged would have been very very significant - not just a few thousand at the margins. Put it another way the 5 million plus is something like the city of Plymouth multiplied by 20. Even now I believe that the best part of a million folk are still going to lose out as a result of the Chancellor's panicky correction measure.

The 10p debacle has upset a lot of people, not only I think those who were due to be financially penalised. I may be naive but I do think others want to see justice and fair play and Brown's political ploy on this one has done him no favours. Doing something about the 10p mess became an absolute imperative when the government realised Frank Field and the rebels could vote down the finance bill. There's no other reason for the change of tack by Brown, nothing to do with listening to people's concerns, it was purely and simply about survival.

There seems to be a division of opinion about whether Brown will soldier on until the next General Election, assumed to be in 2010, or whether he will be eased aside. He is in an incredibly weak position that's for sure. Time will tell what happens next.

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