Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Meet the New Boss

I was annoyed that The Daily Politics programme (BBC2) cut the final moments of Tony Blair in the House of Commons for the endless tennis (that itself will go on and on for an unfinished match). When that happened I switched quickly to BBC Parliament to see the all round standing ovation (except nationalist MPs). Other than that warm good natured theatre, I think the day is underwhelming. This is because of my view of Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown is a schemer. He blocked and plotted all the time he was in government, in effect becoming the Domestic Affairs Prime Minister. Plus he stopped an early entry into the euro and maintained a distance with Europe against Tony Blair's own direction. I thought Tony Blair should have resigned a while back, indeed as a result of his disastrous hoodwinking entry into Iraq in order to carry out a pre-decided policy. We hear that Gordon Brown asked "why now" in cabinet, but came on board; indeed in public Gordon Brown was even more hawkish about removing Saddam Hussein whilst Blair maintained for the time being that the war was about weapons of mass destruction.

I always thought Blair was weak, in the sense that he went along with where the biggest beast was pushing. He also wanted to be liked. He did act on Bosnia: that was genuinely his effort and did persuage Bill Clinton. Having gone with the simplistic big beast of the international stage, George Bush, to maintain our relationship with the USA (as well as genuinely to act against the lunatic terrorists we now face), he then had to use his barrister skills with his back against the wall, and he realised himself that the old Tony Blair was finished. He might have been better off for it, but there was such a break of trust with the people who elected him that the Labour Party found some rebels to do a little backbenchers' coup that finished him in advance, and sent him out of office earlier than he would have liked. He would have wanted another three years, but even the ten that he managed looked unlikely at one point.

Gordon Brown, presented with a knife on several occasions, failed to use it. He is known for taking a long time over decisions. He just knows the detail of government and hisown Chancellor will be no equal to him like he was to Blair. However Gordon Brown bullies via detail; he blocks, and he will employ political tricks. I think he is devious, politically. His 10p tax band removal, and then calling a tax rise for so many a tax cut because of the 2p cut foxed David Cameron for a moment - but no one else after an hour or so. His announcements of spending were made many times, usually by change of emphasis or time frame. This is devious spinning. So if he believes in "change", he will have to change himself.

Indeed Gordon Brown timed the defection of Quentin Davies to come to sit beside him prior to the day of resigning and his accession. Somehow this defection is very ineffectual and comes at the wrong time in the electoral cycle. Davies has socially conservative views and would, it is said, feel uncomfortable with the Liberal Democracts. What a lot that says about Labour today.

The comparison of the present is with John Major taking over from Margaret Thatcher, except that Tony Blair is getting right out of the way and does not intend to back seat drive. John Major did go on to win an election, which meant he and not Labour had the ERM crisis of the overvalued pound (this is of no relevance to the euro - once you are in a currency, you are in it: the ERM was always in tension with an actual currency). Gordon Brown may not have such a crisis, but neither did John Major until he had won. It is not clear that Brown will even win an election, and he knows it and thus he spins about "change" and employing outsiders.

The clever change would be to the electoral system and constitution. He knows that proportional voting changes how government is created, and that he then could have outsiders on the inside as manifestos have to be traded according to how people voted. It would mean a realignment of the left (of which, once, Tony Blair spoke with references to past Liberal leaders). That realignment could mean a generally left-leaning government for much longer than otherwise. The Swedes once did something like this: seeing the socialist vote drop, the electoral system was shifted. If so here, Gordon Brown's travelling friend Menzies Campbell could genuinely join in.

We do have an untested, as yet insubstantial Conservative leader who seems to be mainly presentation. Blair continued to have the ability to present. The question first will be whether the lack of presentational ability in Brown and Campbell wins against presentation in Cameron. So far Campbell has struggled, but curiously Brown may help him.

Let's wait for the future to display what happens. Too often news programmes live in the future as a substitute for analysis. Here I am arguing that Brown is a devious political operator up close, a spin merchant behind the scenes, a manipulator, but he lacks presentation skills except for surprises that last hours before being uncovered.

There is further thought. It is good to live in a country where politicians can be civil with each other, and recognise one another's talents, and where all but sour nationalists can recognise a big political figure of many talents and be both humorous and generous in strong measure.

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