So farewell to Brown, one of the great contradictions of post-war British politics and the man who never won an election. And hello to David Cameron, a new prince in troubled times
Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.
Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 4
Oh what crap. If he’d resigned once and cleanly, then yes he would have earned the inevitable plaudits. But he didn’t. Barely 24 hours earlier he had “resigned” in a nakedly political gesture to try and cling on to office for a few more months, a few more months in which he might have found some excuse not to go at all. No doubt it would have been in the “national interest”.
Despite Brown’s shenanigans, the British interregnum has been mercifully brief. Cameron is now installed in Number 10, with Nick Clegg as his deputy, though the precise form of his cohabitation with the Lib Dems is yet to emerge. The comparison could be made with 1996, and the craven Mr Peters playing the one against the other. To me the parallel is 1984. A defeated, discredited leader “squats” in office, while a foreign exchange crisis rages around him. Brown is Muldoon. The vast, fearsome intellect; the obsessive control; the refusal to cede power despite reality.
Well, now he’s gone.
Gordon Brown is a bizarre contradiction. He’s the man who saved the global banking system, yet the man too politically deaf to avoid humiliation by Joanna Lumley and the Gurkhas. He’s the man who made the Bank of England independent, yet he’s the man who sold England’s bullion stocks at the bottom of the market. He’s the man who boasted of banishing ‘Tory boom and bust’, yet presided over a terrifying recession, made vastly worse by the debt Brown racked up before that recession began.
Most of all, he’s the man who never won office or power by vote, but was personally rejected on a crushing scale. He stood aside and let Tony Blair take the leadership in 1994, and from then on he seethed with resentment. He was himself crowned in 2007, bullying his colleagues into avoiding a vote. Then, most definitively, he didn’t seek or win a mandate from the people that same year.
Buoyed by a series of footling mini-crises (remember the idiot “terrorists” who crashed their car into the door of a Scottish airport), he orchestrated a campaign for a snap election. He would probably have won, but he bottled it. The Tories fought back, and Brown did not carpe the diem. Most egregiously he pretended it was not the prospect of losing that persuaded him against the vote. It was a defining act of cowardice. It meant he never won personal validation. He never won election to anything but his own seat in Scotland.
In that opening quote, Shakespeare wrote of the treacherous Thane of Cawdor, who had campaigned against his own King Duncan, and was executed for it. Does it sound familiar? It might to Tony Blair. His political partnership with Brown famously became a grossly dysfunctional marriage, marred by endless poisonous “briefings”.
After Blair’s departure, the pus continued to ooze. Brown aide Damian McBride was sacked for plotting (from within Downing St) to launch a website peddling completely fake slurs about senior Tories. Brown’s famous “moral compass” had too many malfunctions.
So what of the Tories, and the quite awesome challenges they face? How extraordinary was the contrast with the last victorious young Prime Minister. Tony Blair surged into Downing St on that May morning 13 years ago with cheering crowds weeping for his victory.
David Cameron walked nervously, it appeared to me. He wore almost a grimace, knowing he may be inheriting the worst of times, where Blair took over in the best economic circumstances for decades. The fragrant, pregnant Sam was at his side, the gentle swelling of her tummy eclipsed by the swelling of pride in her husband’s breast. Oops, sorry – got a bit carried away with it all for a moment there.
Cameron spoke in an obvious sub-Kennedy fashion, imploring his fellow citizens to ask not what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities? Then he entered Downing St as Prime Minister, with time for a nice little cuddle at the door, in the most personal moment of this morning’s drama.
The economics will be bloody, but I look forward to electoral reform in Britain. All the attention is on Alternative Vote and Proportional Reform. To me, the more pressing scandal is the gross distortion in the existing system. There are 110,000 voters in the Conservative-held Isle of Wight constituency. There are 22,000 voters in the SNP held Na h-Eileanan (formerly Western Isles, off the NW coast of Scotland). A typical English suburban or rural seat (typically Tory held) might have 70 thousand voters. Typically Labour held Welsh seats are in the 50 thousands or below.
Now how is that ‘fair for all’ to use a Labour slogan?
I could go on, but who cares. And by the way, I played no part at all in Gordon’s downfall. It was just a cheap gimmick to get you to read this.