The man who should never have been PM
All the former Gordon Brown-nosers are now wondering ‘how did we get it so wrong?’ They should have read spiked.
‘The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it, too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so. The prime minister demands loyalty, but that has become too much to ask of a party, and a country, that was never given the chance to vote for him.’
When that kind of assessment comes from a newspaper that was once your fanclub newsletter, you know you are in trouble. And so it was that the Guardian advised Gordon Brown to make sure the door didn’t hit his arse on the way out of 10 Downing Street.
Once, the paper’s writers had demanded his accession to the throne in place of Tony Blair. Columnist Polly Toynbee practically used to jump around waving pom-poms and shouting ‘Give us a G… Give us an O…’. She wrote articles under headings such as ‘Blair’s party is crying out for Gordon the Viking’. You could almost hear the cheers from the newspaper’s offices all the way down Farringdon Road when Brown took over in June 2007.
If the finest scribes at the Guardian were all but rebranding themselves ‘Team GB’ two years ago, Andy Beckett used a lengthy article in the paper’s G2 section yesterday to remind us that it wasn’t just liberals came over all faint when he was crowned. Less than two years ago, the conservative weekly the Spectator was also waxing lyrical. After accompanying Brown on a trip to the US, editor Matthew D’Ancona wrote: ‘The sense of liberation [in Brown]… is palpable. Every morning he clearly awakes and thinks… “I am prime minister!”‘
D’Ancona went on to suggest that the mood was very much one of a new era dawning, not an exhausted understudy belatedly getting his moment in the limelight. Across the political spectrum, the media were gushing over Brown’s ‘masterly’ performances and suggesting he could be a ‘great prime minister’.
If the aim of Beckett’s article was to suggest that ‘it wasn’t just us at the Guardian who fell for Brown, we all did’, he might have done well to check his paper’s then near-neighbour: spiked. The day before Brown took office (nothing so grand as an inauguration for us understated Brits), Brendan O’Neill provided why Brown wasn’t fit to be prime minister, including that he is: yesterday’s man espousing yesterday’s politics; an illiberal obsessed with security; an adherent to the politics of low expectations; and worst of all a political coward: ‘Leaders need balls, daring, a willingness to take risks and deal with the consequences. Brown has none of these things.’ (See 10 reasons why Gordon Brown is not fit to be prime minister, by Brendan O’Neill.)
Far from being a brave warrior re-establishing the true Labour way after the cheesy aberration that was Tony Blair, Brown was absolutely central to the New Labour project. Nothing demonstrates their later penchant for backroom dealing than the way Blair and Brown struck a private deal to carve up the Labour Party leadership and future government roles in an Islington restaurant back in 1994.
Brown famously held sway as chancellor of the exchequer over much of the government’s domestic policy, while fully supporting the Iraq War (even if he bolted for cover rather than support Blair publicly on the war). As such, when Brown became leader he was just a new face pursuing exhausted ideas. If anything, given his political cowardice, controlling tendencies and utter lack of charisma, he was always going be even more illiberal and less inspiring than his predecessor.
All of which made the collective media moistening over Brown two years ago so difficult to fathom. As spiked‘s Mick Hume wrote at the time: ‘The astonishing media reaction to the announcement of Brown’s government has had to be seen to be believed – and even then, it has been difficult to credit it. A mass media suck-up like this has not been seen since… well, since Tony Blair took over as prime minister. But unlike “new broom” Brown, he had not been in government for the previous 10 years.’ (See The gravedigger in Downing Street, by Mick Hume.)
After a couple of months of grandstanding about floods and terrorism, Brown’s aborted push towards a quick General Election allowed Tory leader David Cameron the opportunity to cobble together a united front. Since then, Cameron’s own lack of political substance has been camouflaged by the implosion of Brown’s government. The fiasco of ‘Bottler Brown’ was just one of many vindications of spiked‘s analysis: we described him as ‘a fitting leader for a government and political class suffering an acute loss of nerve’. (See ‘Bottler Brown’ – the PM British politics deserves, by Mick Hume.) The economic downturn and the expenses scandal have sown panic in Labour ranks, as scores of twitchy backbenchers realise they will be joining the ever-lengthening dole queues within 12 months, yet these events only magnified the utter lack of direction that has been present within the Labour government for years.
At least when Blair was in charge, Labour’s supporters could cynically blame him and not the party itself for everything that went wrong. Now that the scapegoat has left Downing Street, it’s become crystal clear that New Labour itself ran out of ideas some time ago. Political principle and vision were always absent; indeed they were positively shunned. The government’s two defining principles were to keep talking up its economic success (now shown to be illusory) and to try to control absolutely everything – which mostly meant the petty management of people’s lives. In every walk of life, trust has been replaced with snooping: we are watched, monitored and checked up on at every turn. Thousands of new criminal offences and petty regulations, mostly designed to enforce this micromanagement of our lives, have been created by the Labour government.
Brown was party to the creation of it all. The New Labour project is fundamentally flawed, in equal parts authoritarian and vacuous, and the idea that it died on 27 June 2007 when Brown took over is pure fantasy.
While some of Brown’s problems are personal flaws, others are intrinsic both to Labour and to politics more generally today. The fact that still, after such an extended period of abject failure, Brown’s rivals cannot bring themselves to put him out of his misery shows that cowardice is not his sole preserve. Writing in The Times (London) today, Matthew Parris rightly describes Brown’s cabinet colleagues as a bunch of ‘bedwetters’. Perhaps they realise that an alternative future led by Alan Johnson or David Miliband isn’t much of an alternative.
Today’s polls are widely expected to deliver an almightly kicking to Labour – one that will be richly deserved. We will have to wait and see if Brown’s party in parliament has the balls to deliver the coup de grace to his leadership. In the meantime, we continue to live in a country without a functioning government, just when we really need one.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.
They’re all ‘independent’ now – but from what?, by Mick Hume
No party has a divine right to exist, by Rob Lyons
The implosion of the political class, by Brendan O’Neill
Taking refuge in the rhetoric of reform, by Frank Furedi
The question is: trust you to do what?, by Tim Black
Beware the vultures circling the Commons, by Brendan O’Neill
Paying politicians is good for democracy, by Tim Black
MPs’ expenses: what price democracy?, by Mick Hume
Read more at spiked issue MPs’ expenses.
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