Don’t blame Brown…
‘What happened to Our Gordon?’ wail writers. Yet it was self-deluded Brown-nosers who sowed illusions in this empty vessel of a political leader.
‘What has happened to Our Gordon?’ wail the New Labour commentators and MPs as the government’s popularity and credibility wane as thin as the prime minister’s weird smile: ‘Where did it all go wrong?’
Answer: nothing has happened to Brown – the indecisive, cowardly, empty vessel of a managerial politician we see revealed before us now is what he has always been like. And it hasn’t ‘gone wrong’ – this collapse is the logical outcome of Brown’s vacuous, new New Labour government faced with a real crisis.
Those now bemused by the turn of events are largely to blame for their own consternation. They deluded themselves – and tried to tell the rest of us – that the problem with New Labour was Tony Blair. Once that evil usurper was overthrown and Brown became prime minister, all would apparently be well, ‘Real Labour’ would escape from the dungeon where the wicked Blair had long imprisoned it, and everything would be joy and socialism (or at least social democracy) in Britain once more.
When Blair finally gave in and resigned last year, the Brown-nosing began in earnest. What a man, what a Glorious Leader, what a hero, they all cried, as Brown promised ‘change’ on every front. Go back and read what some of those breathless Brown-worshipping columnists wrote at the time and you might wonder what they were on. Now it becomes clear that, as some of us predicted at the time, little has altered and any change there has been is for the worse – a quite remarkable achievement, given the state of Blair’s government.
The revelation that the emperor has no clothes might now come as a shock to those who created the fantasy of Brown’s political finery. But the truth is that it was only their hatred of Blair that blinded them to the obvious truth about Brown. Such was the depth of their Tono-phobia by the end of the Blair years that many left-liberal observers desperately invested all their hopes in Brown to breathe the miracle of life back into the Labour Party and government.
But Labour had been dead for years. Blair did not kill it. It was only the fact that the Labour Party had already become an empty shell that allowed the Blair clique to walk in and declare the New Labour ‘project’ in the first place. As the interventionist and powerful chancellor for a decade, with his hands on every lever of government, Brown was at least as much an architect of New Labour as Blair. Nobody who looked at Brown’s real record over those 10 years, rather than at his imaginary principles, could have seriously imagined that he would start a programme of bold reforms once in power. Yet the apparently sane and serious Brown-nosers told us that a ‘revolution’ was afoot last year.
Blair at least had the dazzling panache and media-friendly personality behind which he could try to conceal the bankrupt state of the Labour Party and government. Now that there is only the grey lump of gristle called Gordon to hide behind, all can see the void where Labour was supposed to be. It is revealed as a party and government without principles, vision or backbone.
Like the rump force of British troops that Brown has left hiding behind barbed wire in Iraq, New Labour hangs around impotently as a crisis rages around it and people ask: ‘What on earth are they still DOING there?’ Brown himself is confirmed as a bank manager of a politician who cannot handle a banking crisis, running a government of accountants who cannot do their accounts, as isolated from the real world and the people who live and work in it as the top bankers with whom he has been closeted in private meetings this week.
So now the Brown-nosers are turning on their less-than-glorious leader, seemingly shocked to discover that their hero cannot walk on water with his feet of clay, pleading with him to make a stand. But for what? Contrary to the myths they have indulged for years, Brown never had any set of ‘secret’ principles and bold policies up his sleeve ready to revolutionise the UK the day he entered 10 Downing Street. Indeed, so low are his political horizons that he seriously appears to believe that his paralysed government is taking ‘all the measures that we can, and we will not be diverted from this as a fundamental priority’. Presumably he means the ‘fundamental’ step of abolishing the 10p income tax rate. That should sort out the international finance markets in a jiffy.
Some of Brown’s supporters have been particularly shocked to see his recent turn to celebrity politics – making a big show of meeting Hollywood crusader George Clooney, appearing on American Idol etc. After all, didn’t he promise an end to such Blairite nonsense and a ‘new seriousness’ in public life just before he became prime minister? But celebrity politics was never simply about Blair’s love affair with the rich and famous. It has grown to fill the gap where our proper political and public life ought to be, at a time of cynicism when actors and even chefs can be seen as more credible campaigners than elected leaders. Thus Brown has been inevitably drawn into that world as his problems deepen. It is not, as some loyalists have tried to claim, that Brown is pursuing a more ‘serious’ sort of celebrity politics. It is the absence of serious politics that makes the glitter of celebrity so irresistible.
Despite their sudden naive disappointment with the prime minister, however, the disillusioned Brown-nosers have no alternative to offer. They have invested all their hopes in him, just as many did with Blair a decade earlier, apparently without ever starting a serious debate about where politics is heading. They are now left with nowhere to go.
Sure, there is big talk of a leadership challenge to Brown within New Labour, but what difference would that make? Some have recently branded Brown as ‘Labour’s John Major’. Even that most grey and ineffective Tory prime minister faced top-level political opponents within his own party – the Euro-sceptic ministers Major called ‘bastards’. By contrast, there is no political divide or ‘battle for the future’ within New Labour, simply personal cliques manoeuvring for influence.
The problem goes way beyond Brown, to a crisis of leadership in society. The lack of purpose or direction on offer from any political leader is making current problems in the economy and elsewhere appear far worse than they might otherwise do, creating a sense of foreboding and doom-mongering that could be self-fulfilling. Yet who believes that a David Miliband or an Ed Balls or even a David Cameron leading the government would make a real difference? And if so, why do you believe it? The rise and fall of the Brown-nosing tendency over the past year should be a lesson to us all to question the credentials of would-be saviours more seriously.
For many years, some of us argued with the old left to abandon their illusions in the Labour Party as a vehicle for social change. Yet many carried on banging their heads against that wall until it turned their minds to mush. Now history repeats itself as farce as the liberal-left casts around for a new, new, New Labour saviour, a ‘British Obama’ who can revitalise the party etczzz. Good luck to them with that one.
It is high time those who want genuine change started debating the need for a new political approach to defending progress and freedom and humanism today. The entirely predictable fall of Gordon Brown from the fragile pedestal on which he was so recently placed surely ought to strip away the last illusion about Labour and the old left. But whatever else the liberal-left has lost over the years, it seems to retain its powers of self-delusion. Many of the Brown-nosers still have their heads far too far up a dark place to see any light.
Mick Hume is editor-at-large of spiked.
Rob Lyons said these are taxing times for Gordon Brown. Mick Hume called the budget a cheap excuse for politics. He also described New Labour’s policies as ‘not-so popular capitalism’ and thought plans for reforming inheritance tax were enough to tax the patient of a saint. Elsewhere, David Chandler asked why Gordon Brown hates politics and Brendan O’Neill outlined 10 reasons why Brown is not fit to be prime minister. Or read more at spiked issue British politics.
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