Sunday, December 16, 2007

Brown Must Avoid Being Himself

I have just started reading Tom Bower's biography of Gordon Brown. He paints a picture of a rude, obsessed, deeply psychotic man who is unfit to hold political office. In today's Independent John Rentoul - himself no friend of the right - seems to agree with at least two of those adjectives. He reckons that Brown has only succeeded when he hasn't been himself. But when he reverts to type the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

Being himself is the last thing Brown needs to do. Everything that has gone right for Brown since he became Prime Minister has been because he has behaved out of character. Everything that has gone wrong has been the result of his reverting to type.

Brown's indecision – first he wasn't going to Lisbon, then he was – fits into a pattern. The other episode that damaged his reputation was the dithering over an election. As we look back over Brown's tribulations over the past 10 weeks, most of them were not his fault: Northern Rock, the lost discs, illegal immigrants cleared to work as security guards. But the Lisbon hokey-cokey and the loss of nerve over the election were down to him. They happened because he behaved in the way that those with negative experiences of working with him feared and expected.

Contrast those disasters with Brown's successes. When he confounded the expectations of his character and brought Conservatives – up to and including Baroness Thatcher – into his Downing Street parlour. When he kept able Blairite ministers John Hutton and Lord Adonis in his Government – and stepped up the academies programme in a way that made it (slightly) more palatable to its critics. When he turned out to be pleasantly matter-of-fact about matters as diverse as terrorism and supercasinos – subjects on which he had few known opinions.
Yet the successes have been few and mostly they have been just as much presentational as the failures. All the evidence suggests that the openness of Brown's first few weeks as Prime Minister were a token effort to do what he knew he had to do, but which he found impossible to keep up. One anonymous cabinet minister's comment has been widely retold by MPs who want Brown to succeed but fear the worst: "It's just like the invasion of Iraq: they had no plan for what would happen after the old regime was toppled."


David Boothroyd said...

Tom Bower is a good financial investigative journalist who knows tragically little about politics.

Anonymous said...

Brown can't last the course. Who will be brave enough to challenge him for the leadership? It's only a matter of time...

Anonymous said...

Rentoul is no "friend of the right", true. but he is a last-ditch, dyed-in-the-wool Blairite. He hastes Brown, loves Tony, always has, always will. Rather like Martin Kettle, his columns have to be read with that in mind.

Anonymous said...

Iain, really surprised to learn that you have not read Tom Bower's book already, really thought that you would have been keen to read it before Brown became PM?
It does explain why you were so convinced that he would call that Autumn GE though. If you had read Bower's book earlier, you might not have been so convinced, despite all the briefings and media hype....

Anonymous said...

"just like the invasion of Iraq: they had no plan for what would happen after"

so.. saddam = bliar.

Anyone got a rope?

Anonymous said...

Iain - I'm very surprised that it's taken you this long to read Bower's biography of Brown. It was first published well over two years ago and is - I would say - essential reading for politicals.

Alex said...

Psychotic? Are you sure? A loss of contact with reality? Not good in a Prime Minister if true, but probably true of the last PM in the build-up to the Iraq war.

Anonymous said...

1. Brown: obsessive, psychotic, hiding from enemy fire.
2. Not Mr. Bean; rather Lieutenant Commander Queeg.
3. Send the man a pair of steel ball-bearings for Xmas.

Anonymous said...

"Mr Cameron also uses "salty language", according to the film, and was overheard boasting that Tony Blair was "in the s***" and the Tories would "push Gordon Brown's face in it".

Mr Portillo says Mr Cameron's "bite" could be an advantage. "He is not quite as nice as he looks and I'm pleased to know that because you have to have a bit of a bite and a cutting-edge."

Dave Cameron's Incredible Journey is on BBC2 on Thursday at 7pm's+pint-sized+Rasputin+-+by+the+blonde+from+Tory+HQ/

Anonymous said...

Cherie knew just how things would turn out. Her private opinion of Gordon Brown was succinct: 'He's mad.'

Anonymous said...

Quote today from someone who worked at the Treasury for 2 years, and now works in Whitehall in another Dept:

All the Treasury decisions for the past 5 years have been made by Ed Balls, Brown has concentrated on fighting Blair.

Heseltine was right all those years ago - it's not Brown, it's Balls.

Anonymous said...

I've just finished Tom Bowers' biog of Brown. Two things are amazing about this book. First, whilst you're reading it, he almost seems to predict Brown's behaviour now he's in office. Secondly, having read it, you'll be hard pressed to be surprised about the man's behaviour, e.g. in Lisbon last week. Keep reading and let us know what you think once you've finished it.

Daily Referendum said...

If the Cabinet all knew that Brown was nuttier than squirrel shit, why didn't they try to stop him becoming PM? if it's true then they are even more disgusting than I thought.

Man in a Shed said...

A rough translation of all this:=

1) Brown is unfit for office.
2) Senior Labour people knew this but put party/personal careers before country.

The strange charade of Blair's last years were all about stopping Brown becoming PM whilst trying to take advantage of the image they had created of him for winning elections.

Fundamentally it was a failure of moral courage by Blair and moral integrity by the Labour party.

I wish it was only they who would pay for it...

The Hitch said...

No mention of the fact that Mervyn King of the BOE thinks that Brown and Capt Darling are unable to function due to depression?
I hope that anybody who voted for this shower dies in the gutter and then rots in hell.
Am also cheered by the fact that Cameron isnt as nice as he seems
We dont need woolly headed feel good crap ,we need competence,and if takes pretending to be nice to get rid of this ill formed ill informed bunch of Marxist W****** and restore order , then it needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

you ought to be worried that you Tories have so convinced youselves that Brown is a nutter/mad/unfit for office. If you keep up this deluded view you will find yourselves, the day after the next general election, with David Cameron becoming known as the Tories Kinnock! I have seen it before

Anonymous said...

oldlabourite says: "you ought to be worried that you Tories have so convinced youselves that Brown is a nutter/mad/unfit for office"

I'm not a Tory and I know a madman when I see one. Brown is as nutty as a fruitcake. Bonkers. He is on the edge. He should be sectioned.


ptarmigan said...

The more unpopular he becomes the more he will revert to type. I wonder what would happen if Cameron managed to push him over the edge in PMQs? Perhaps it would not be great for Cameron but it sure would be entertaining!

Anonymous said...

Cherie knew just how things would turn out. Her private opinion of Gordon Brown was succinct: 'He's mad.'

Yes , not so much psychotic as psychiatric .

Brown has the features mild- moderate Asperger's , a variety of autism

- difficulties in social interreaction

-restricted and stereotyped interests and activities

-obsessive interest in a limited range of things outside which he is uncomfortable and awkward

-motor clumsiness often noted

- generally a bit weird !

Anonymous said...

My brother in law worked in the Inland Revenue, he came across Brown a lot.
He treats those junior to him very rudely, he's intolerant and would leave them off the plane if they were a few minutes late at the Airport, when going abroad on Govt business, and he's completely lacking in social graces !

Anonymous said...

The situation come May should be interesting, post the local elections.

Bawgies McSporran will get absolutely creamed. There will be spin to the effect that only losing 1,000 or so seats will be a good result. This will be faithfully repeated as fact on al-BBC, and true to form it will fiercely question why the Conservatives have only won 995 or whatever.

Spin aside, it won't fool and will seriously worry your average Labour MP. Labour MPs are basically lobbyists, union hacks, polytechnic lecturers or otherwise completely unemployable public sector parasites. When they realise the trough is imminently going to be snatched away from their piggy snouts, and that their lives will never be this good again, they will turn their hatred of enterprise, hard work and independence away from the privately-employed middle classes and focus it onto McBawgies.

If the PLP try to knife McBawgies they'll have to come up with an alternative candidate, and frankly, nobody's likely to want to play that role. The idea of a caretaker doesn't fly - they need to set someone up to take the blame for defeat in 2010 and then regroup in opposition behind someone who can be spun as relatively untainted by the Bliar-McBawgies era.

Since nobody's daft enough to volunteer for the caretaker role I think there will be some hugely entertaining internecine hate as those Liebour MPs with safe seats try to keep McBawgies in the job so he can be fall guy, while those who are sure to get booted out frantically try to get rid of the useless bugger so they can replace him with someone who may rescue one or two of their worthless hate-filled hides.

I'm not sure what the outcome will be, but wouldn't it be glorious if McBawgies were to be knifed by the PLP and Harperson took over as the second unelected PM until it's time for her to lose the election?

M. Hristov said...

Time for a favourite genre of Iain’s. The counterfactual.

It is December 2007 and the controversial E.U. Treaty is about to be signed. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have denounced it roundly but that has made no difference, for The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has a new “best friend” in Europe, Nicolas Sarkozy. He has formed an alliance with the man from the Elysee and is preparing the ground for his own ascendancy to the new Presidency of Europe. It was thought that Angela Merkel might re-ignite the old Franco-German axis but Tony spent weeks in Paris discussing matters with “Sarko”. “Sarko” is very much a man of Blair’s stamp, for “Sarko” has raised his own salary whilst trying to impose a pseudo-Thatcherism on France. “Sarko” loves the U.S. and loves Blair. He does not warm to the rather austere Angela Merkel. Simon Heffer is already denouncing “Sarko” at length in his Daily Telegraph column.

It is true that there have been some upsets recently in Britain but these were dealt with rapidly. A crisis arose at Northern Rock but Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was persuaded to buy it, after the directors of Northern Rock were privately threatened with prosecution for wrongful trading. The principal shareholders, having been presented with a fait accompli, were also privately persuaded to agree to the Branson takeover, the alternative being insolvency. Tony had brought back Alistair Campbell to deal with press. The one reporter who realised that this might breach E.U. law suddenly found his vocabulary of swear words radically increased and the proprietor of his newspaper got an invite to No. 10 for a “soft soaping”, from Tony, the next day.

There was a little matter of some missing computer disks but the HMRC press office was told to say that, since they could not be found, no one knew what was on them. The junior official who sent them was reminded of his loss of pension rights if he breathed a word about the loss.

Then came the funding scandal. Blair simply said that none of the officials of the Labour Party knew about the anonymous donations and, in the absence of such knowledge, the criminal law only applied to the donor not the donee. This is, of course, the legal position, as Cherie reminded Tony. Those who sought to say there was strict liability, because “ignorance of the law is no excuse” were quietly threatened with a libel suit, by the relevant officials of the Labour Party. A visit to their libel lawyers was enough to persuade them that Tony’s interpretation of the law was correct.

In the meantime, the Labour Party was in a feverish state, as they anticipated the Blair ascendancy to the European Presidency and the subsequent Prime Ministerial vacancy. David Milliband, Environment Secretary, was rumoured to have set up a secret HQ with 50 telephone lines and broadband. The Chancellor of The Exchequer, Jack Straw, was cleverly manoeuvring to get back into the Foreign Office, before the economic downturn, so he could have a good chance of getting the top job. He was slightly buoyed by the fact that the Euro was now stronger and that this justified Tony’s decision to join.

The British newspapers missed a rather insignificant story. The absence of the President of Romania from the Lisbon signing.
His Excellency Gordon Brown- Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen had thought long and hard about attendance but had decided to ask the Prime Minister to go instead.

No one in the fevered British press corps realised that this man was once set to try to conquer British Labour politics but had surrendered to love and had married Margaret De Roumanie (Princess Margarita of Romania), his university amorata. A solid career had followed, as an academic at Edinburgh University. The rather private Professor Brown flourished with the loving care of his devoted wife.

Gordon’s life was turned upside down by the events following the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. His father-in-law, King Michael visited Romania in 1992 and took Gordon with him. He gave Gordon the title of Prince Brown-Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. President lliescu was so concerned at this turn of events that he banned King Michael and Prince Gordon from Romania. However President Constantinescu lifted that ban five years later.

Then something totally unexpected happened. The former Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria swore an oath to the Republic of Bulgaria and won the 2001 Bulgarian Parliamentary elections. He was sworn in as Prime Minister under the name of Simeon Saxecoburggotski. His election seemed to enhance Bulgaria’s chance of joining the E.U.

Prince Gordon’s love of politics was reawakened and he started building a personal political base in Romania. This was very difficult because President Iliescu was a very successful political operator but Gordon succeeded in taking the Presidency in the 2004 Romanian elections.

Gordon gleefully gave up his princely title, swore an oath to the Republic of Romania and settled into government. He found that his very presence encouraged western investment and that the vestiges of the Communist system played to his personal strengths. All Government Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, expected to be told what to do in minute detail. They were completely used to central control. Also, he could sit and cogitate in his office for days on end, because no one was forcing quick decisions on him. Eastern Europeans were happy with this pace of life, as Communism had been equally slow. Ponderous intellectualism was respected in Romania, rather than reviled, another legacy of Communism. Gordon technically shared power with the Prime Minister, who was from his own party, but he was able to undermine the P.M. by giving the P.M. all the difficult jobs The opposition was often vocal but were forced into coalition with Gordon, because this was the best way to get into the E.U.

Gordon was very happy indeed and no longer brooded on what might have been. He had a very happy home life and was planning for the future. There was bound to be some Romanian disappointment after entering the E.U. but Gordon was already planning to blame the P.M., hence his absence in Lisbon.

Gordon got up from his desk in Ceaucescu’s huge palace and walked over to his outer office. The outer office secretary was used to him giving orders. This was not England where secretaries often controlled things. This was Romania where party bosses controlled things and secretaries did what they were told.

The phone rang and Gordon indicated that it should be put on speaker.

“This is the office of Tony Blair. Mr Blair would like to speak to His Excellency. Mr Blair courteously reminds His Excellency that he has called everyday for a week.”

His Excellency President Gordon Brown- Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen of Romania silently indicated that Mr Blair should ring back. The secretary relayed this and His Excellency started to wander through his office cogitating on the thorny issue of tourism planning.

Meanwhile, miles away in London, Mr Blair was told of His Excellency’s unavailability.

“Can you believe that Alistair?” he said turning to Mr Campbell. “He wouldn’t get away with that procrastination here.”

“No, what a f*****g Communist Royal w****r”. came the reply “But you’ll have to be nice to the stupid git, Tony, until you are President that is. You need his support to get to the top of Europe”.

This is all copyrighted fiction but I often think that Tony Blair would have handled current events differently and that Gordon Brown would be genuinely happier in a different political system. This is an attempt to imagine what would have happened if Gordon Brown had married Margarita of Romania an event which could well have happened.

Anonymous said...

curmy [12.03 AM] You say, "He treats those junior to him very rudely."

And have you noticed how he deals with journalists at his news conferences? A curt nod and a grunt to indicate who goes next.

How to win friends and influence people!

Tapestry said...

Cherie thought Gordon 'mad'. Presumably she thought her husband equally mad for keeping him as Chancellor for 10 years.

How about Gisella Stuart as next Labour leader?

Anonymous said...

Psychotic is a medical diagnosis. If it's Bower's description it descredits his work somewhat, if it's yours you should feel embarrassed to be throwing around these sorts of terms without fully realising their meaning. Incapable Brown maybe, but psychotic he isn't. I'm a regular reader (first time poster) and have never had cause to comment before, but this is lazy writing at best, and something I'd certainly not come to expect from your blog.

Paddy Briggs said...

Open Letter to the PM

Dear Gordon,

I don’t know whether you read Iain Dale’s blog – but you should. True you can discount the mad right-wing ravings of some of the contributors, but Iain’s posts and those of many of his saner blogmates are worthy of a close read. A bit like “The Spectator” actually – the Speccy seems to be going through a golden age of well-informed and well-written analysis at the moment. You often learn more from your opponents than you do from your friends!

Those of us who support progressive politics must be saddened by your current struggles and predicament. I for one don’t buy the criticism of the Blair decade that it entirely lacked ideological foundations, but it was a Government more driven by a love of power and of pragmatism than ideology. Early in your Premiership you suggested that you would be different and that you would “…be strong in purpose, steadfast in will, resolute in action in the service of what matters to the British people.” That was the right thing to say but the words do seem hollow now. The temptation might be to revert to Blairite type to correct this and to start spinning. I urge you not to do this but to start to present an ideology that is true to your roots and your values.

The advantage of clearly stating your progressive and social democratic values is that your opponents are superficial and concerned only with image and point scoring. You may recall the early years of the creation of New Labour when you and Tony did something similar so you can hardly blame the Tories for stealing these clothes! You must outflank them ideologically and there is a golden opportunity for you to do this. That opportunity comes when the LibDems elect their new leader. It looks like being Nick Clegg and you should assume that, like you before him, he is ambitious for power. Now the disaster of Iraq is almost behind you (well done!) there shouldn’t be much in your way to stop you opening a proper dialogue with the LibDems. Frankly there isn’t much ideological difference between your values and theirs and a re-alignment of the Left is a real prospect. And wouldn’t you rather have Cable as Chancellor and Clegg as Home Secretary than the present incumbents? And that really would cook the Tories Christmas goose!

Anonymous said...

Open Letter to Gordon Brown:

In case you couldn't wade through the turgid, pretentious prose of Paddy Briggs, here's something a bit snappier.

Never trust people who tar articulately written posts espousing a return to centre right governance as "mad right wing ravings".

Oscar Miller said...

Well said Verity.

I'm increasingly struck how out of touch the leftist mindset is now becoming. For instance listening to Start the Week this morning, the BBC offered a predictable hatchet job from Andrew 'best friend of Gordo' Marr previewing Michael Cockerell's doc about DC. To hear Marr's interview with Cockerell you'd believe they were stuck in a time warp circa - oh - as far back as September 2007. In other words light years away. BBC and co are busy burying their nulab heads in fond nostalgia about clunking fist destroying chameleon 'call me dave'. That was before dave became the feared Flashman and Broon became Bean. Reality will eventually bite the BBC and their many fellow travellers very hard indeed.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about psychotic, more passive-aggressive. That explains his behaviour in Lisbon (an assertive person would have either refused to sign, had a referendum on it, or - having signed - turned up for the signing ceremony).

It also explains why he feels free to be rude to those who cannot (or, as with Blair, would not) answer back, while Cameron's needling of him in the Commons made his hand shake with rage.

Oscar Miller said...

psychotic? - passive aggressive? - how about stark staring bonkers?