The retirement of Gordon Brown from politics requires some acknowledgement even though I was never a fan of him either as Chancellor or Prime Minister and was delighted when he left Downing Street. But all that said, every man that reaches such High Office and regardless of their politics deserves recognition of their achievement in having done so, the job is not ‘given away’, you have to put in a lot of effort to get there.
However, whether once there they had the “fair wind and good luck” required by all incumbents whilst in Office, is another matter altogether.
It has always been a favourite story of mine concerning Marshall Ney extolling the virtues of a young Officer for promotion to Napoleon, outlining his bravery and listing the battles he had been in. Napoleon nodded and asked just one question: “Yes Ney but tell me, is he lucky ?”
Although his rather brooding character and lack of personal charisma certainly contributed to it all, the reality is that Gordon Brown was not a lucky man.
The top job he had so long desired and fought for, only became his just before the economy for which as Chancellor he had been responsible, went into free fall. The Blair/Brown years in Government were not good either, the feuding between both camps was to hollow out the Labour Party, leave it desperately short of front bench talent and devoid of new MPs developing their political skills ready to step up in the future.
To top it all, he was handed a poisoned chalice in the Lisbon Treaty by Blair and lacked the political skill to sell his subsequent actions to the electorate, he should have been open and honest not playing games by turning up late to sign the damned thing. Worst of all, when he got the job (unopposed), he chickened out of the most obvious next step of calling a snap General Election which he most certainly would have won even if he shed a few seats in the process. No, Lucky Gordon he certainly wasn’t.
Obviously I have never and never will meet the man so the following are just my opinions. His speech in the House when David Cameron’s son had died was poignant and classy, although he came rather late to the party, his intervention on the Scottish Referendum was powerful. In one sense I liked him as a ‘character’ he was one Shakespeare could have created, dark, brooding, passionate, a seriously flawed central character and memorable for all that.
I can recall writing about him and Blair and commenting that it is Brown who will be remembered most and best by history, it is him that plays will be written around and about. I am sure that May 2010 would have been a bitter blow for him and although I am no fan, in a kind of “fairness” I have dug up a post I did in late September of 2009 following the Labour Party Conference, it contains all my prejudices but also as a snapshot of a period in time that describes the then circumstances, it must have been a very difficult time for him and his family.
I have not altered a word, for better or worse “The End of the Pier Show” :
The End of the Pier Show 26/09/2009
This week sees the Labour Party Conference being held in Brighton and the very last one before the next General Election, there are many within the Labour Party who fear that it will the last time for 10 years or more that a Conference will be held whilst they are the Government.
I suppose the ‘Media’ will have to make some sort of story up about the Labour Party still being “in with a shout” come the next election but the reality is that and despite Cameron’s refusal to acknowledge it for fear of looking presumptuous, he will be our next Prime Minister although without the popular acclaim that greeted Blair in May 1997.
Andrew Grice writing in the Independent touched upon the internal debate within the Labour Party upon tactics and Gordon Brown himself:
“There is tension over Mr Brown’s attempt to get credit for steering Britain through the economic storms. Some ministers think he wastes his time, saying voters rarely give thanks, and certainly won’t to a man to whom they have stopped listening.”
To say that the real problem lies with Gordon Brown himself is not an accurate statement because it is broader than that and may well have longer term impacts on the future political direction of the Labour Party.
A Walking Disaster
Brown is the very worse person to have as PM when he spent the previous 10 years as Chancellor during which time he rather “bigged up” his own supposed achievements and subsequently looks like the classic “Peter Principle” of the cream rises until it sours, a man is promoted until he reaches his level of incompetence.
His most notable failings lie in a lack of leadership and presentational skills, every statement is “Tractor Production Figures…” there is nothing inspirational about the man. In the week before a busy one for him on the International stage followed by the Party Conference, he didn’t do the sensible thing over Baroness Scotland and sack her. Knowing when to be ruthless and removing “distractions” is also an essential leadership skill, Cameron understands this, Brown never will.
For all his prattling on about the “big issues”, these are not the things that touch upon most people, job losses, income reduction, debts taken on against times when they seemed so manageable, these are the things that are important to them.
Whilst it is true that the crash was global and outside the control of any Government, Brown is tainted by not seeing it coming in the first place plus allowing the Public Finances to get completely out of control. In simple terms, the man was as incompetent at being Chancellor as he is at being Prime Minister.
Labour Will Lose
My gut feeling is that in effect the public decided some time ago that Labour’s time in Office was over and someone else should have a go. The media often comment that whilst Cameron is liked personally, people are not so sure of the Tory Party itself or what their detailed policies are. In reality that is not important, the public want a fresh pair of eyes looking at the situation and if nothing else, the LibDem Conference last week demonstrated that they are no nearer being a viable alternative government than they ever were. Even if you hated the Conservatives, you would have to acknowledge that they are the only viable Party in the UK today.
The problem that was the worm in the core of the whole New Labour project has always been the Blair/Brown Feud which meant that new MPs looking for career advancement had to choose between one camp or the other. The major problem with this is that Labour have lost a whole generation of rising talent, the future front bench “stars”.
That Labour have a major dearth of talent as is shown by the current Cabinet, can anyone take either of the Miliband brothers seriously ? But it goes much deeper than that and touches upon the very soul of the party itself.
There are “Labour Heartlands”, the most loyal of which will likely be post industrial constituencies and therefore as the “New Labour Project” was aimed at the aspirational English seats particularly in the Home Counties, could New Labour survive ?
The bigger the defeat for Labour, the more to the swing to the left will be and this will have a major impact on just how quickly Labour can recover from that defeat. This will not be an easy task because it will require forging a new message – what the Labour Party is about – whilst also finding and developing a whole new generation of front bench speakers which means between 10 minimum
to a more realistic 15 years to complete.
So to call this Brighton Labour Party Conference, The End of the Pier Show with that fitting finale of the last speech being made by Hattie Harmon…you just couldn’t make it up if you tried !