Thursday, 22 May 2008

The End is Nigh for Gordon Brown

"All political careers end in failure" is a much overused phrase but it is one which Gordon Brown, the current UK Prime Minister must surely be contemplating as he surveys with mounting apprehension the likely result from the Crewe and Nantwich parliamentary by-election. A man who has a reputation for coping badly with stress, whose gnawed and ragged fingernails bear stark testament to the strain he is under. He has visibly aged in the long months since his act of folly in October last year, his eyes ever more deeply set in his skull, the bags under his eyes more pronounced, his jaw seemingly more tightly clenched. He cuts a shambling, clumsy figure of a man, you could almost feel some pity for him, the first serving UK Prime Minister to be denied a waxwork by Madame Tussauds. The butt of a thousand jokes, witnessed on YouTube picking his nose, photographed at a meeting of world leaders with a huge orange make up stain on his forehead, getting lost at a royal banquet to welcome the French President, regarded as a Jonah figure whose well wishes are a curse and his mere presence a guarantee of failure.

He must wonder in his fevered moments of relative peace and quiet when the phonecalls have died down for the day and his children are abed where it all went so badly wrong, how did he end up here? How on earth did all those meticulous years of planning and plotting come to this? He was to be the saviour of the Labour Party, for so long the King Over the Water, returning them from the dark days of Blairism to their socialist ideals and focussing on the poor and the disadvantaged. Wasn't that what Tony had promised him the opportunity to do? All the prodding and prompting and rancor and rage of the last decade must sit prominently in his mind as he thinks of the legacy he was handed.


A Scottish Party so lost in the political wilderness, scrabbling around in an attempt to find a direction to go in that they almost brought the Union to it's knees. Whilst Wendy Alexander has not quite killed the Union stone dead, she has certainly dealt it a hammer blow from which it may never recover.

Yet how did it come to this? Scotland was Gordon's heartland and he had ruled the Party unopposed there for as long as he could remember, sweeping their political opponents before them. Had they succumbed to complacency? Had they taken their voters for granted once too often by relying on the same old tired lies and distortions that the people had heard time and time again? He must, in his darker moments of self doubt wonder about the comment made by George Robertson at the outset of devolution about "killing the SNP stone dead" and reflect that it has almost been his party that has been wiped out. Sure, on the face of it, 46 seats against the governing party's 47 seems a small margin but there is a gulf in public warmth and approval between Gordon and Alex Salmond, the charismatic leader of the SNP Scottish Government that suggests the next electoral contest will be much less even.

If the picture in the Scottish Parliament looks grim, the picture in Council Chambers the length and breadth of Scotland looks infinitely worse for Labour. Jack McConnell, for whatever reason was in favour of Proportional Representation in local government. This has led to the Labour stranglehold being broken for the first time in living memory. There are now only two councils in the whole of Scotland under outright Labour control. Their Councillor numbers were decimated in May 2007 and they are almost certain to lose many more the next time as the SNP stand more candidates and really press home their advantage.

Though the true effects of this are yet to be seen, in truth it is the Council results which are the real killer blow to Scottish Labour. They are walking and talking and griping, moaning and baying at the SNP but the truth is that the corpse just hasn't realised yet that it's lifeblood has been savagely cut off. Come the next election, Labour in Scotland do not have anybody left to be their activists. All the ex-councillors and their families who previously did the work will have precious little incentive now that there is nothing to be gained. This is a Labour Party with no defining cohesive purpose, which lost it's way around the time it lost it's founding principles, pitted against a formidable SNP organisation, all pulling in the same direction towards their ultimate goal of Scottish Independence.


Then of course we turn back to England, the scene of Gordon Brown and Labour's most recent defeat. Indeed, defeat is not a strong enough word for a contest which saw Labour become the third party in a UK context when it comes to the popular vote. Admittedly, the number of people voting in the May Council elections was a relatively small proportion of the UK population but they still numbered in their millions and it truly would be a dark day for the Labour Party if that kind of dismal result were to be repeated in a UK general election. For someone who has put great store in being able to appeal to Britain and to the values he considers inherent in Britishness, it must have been a bitter pill indeed for Gordon Brown to swallow.

There is, of course, another factor at play here and that is the fact that Gordon Brown is a Scottish Prime Minister at the very time Scotland is showing her distinctiveness in policy terms from the rest of the United Kingdom. People in England are looking at the situation in Scotland and comparing it favourably with their own. The reduction in prescription charges, prior to their abolition, the lack of student fees, free care for the elderly. These are all things that people in the other constituent parts of the UK would like as well. There seems to have been little attempt made to explain that the Scottish Government gets a block grant from Westminster to spend as they see fit. It seems to better suit the mood of the times to portray it as Scots disproportionately benefitting at the expense of the rest of the UK.

There are actually people now openly questioning what right a Scotsman has to be Prime Minister of the UK, which must send a shiver up Gordon Brown's spine. He knows where this argument ultimately leads, hence his embracing of English sporting heroes and claiming his favourite sporting moment was a goal for England against Scotland.


Then, of course, we turn to the question which has dogged Gordon Brown's short premiership, the one of character. It is one thing to publish a book called courage, and in so doing, not so subtly referencing JFK who wrote "Profiles in Courage". It is quite another thing to show strength of vision and of leadership, presenting a clear and contrasting picture to everything which has gone before. Nowhere has Gordon shown that he has anything like this up his sleeve, one great idea to gentle the lives of the poor or at least to help alleviate the worst poverty that sees many children living in terrible conditions. People looking back at Gordon Brown from ten, eleven, twelve years ago would be amazed at the transformation, not just physically, this happens to us all with time, but from a firebrand preaching social justice and fairness to a dull eyed man with nothing to contribute. His seems to be the classic case of being so corrupted by the want of power that he has forgotten why he ever wanted it in the first place.

Character, ah yes, character, we are so often reminded that Gordon Brown is a "son of the manse", that he has a "moral compass" and even on occasion that he is a "conviction politician". The Guardianistas of the world would have us believe that these are the things that let us get a better insight into the mind of the man who would lead us. There are those who say that he lacks a clear vision of where he wishes to lead and therefore makes for an extremely difficult person to follow.

Others would have you believe that he is like Macavity's cat, in that he is never there when there is a crisis. When something goes wrong he can never be found. This aspect has certainly been writ large in the run up to the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. He has not once been present on the campaign trail and indeed the Labour Party candidate has denied ever meeting him, despite photographic evidence to the contrary, even going to great lengths not to have to say whether he is an asset or a liability when answering an interviewer.

Courage seems to be in short supply and indeed, Gordon Brown got cold feet about an early election and this has proven to be his downfall as events has intervened ever since he marched his Party down from the top of the hill. It was rumoured that staff had been hired at a cost of £1 Million, which the cash strapped Labour party can ill afford in it's current financial predicament. Following a short honeymoon period as Labour Leader, Gordon Brown had looked set to call a snap election. Rumours were rife that it would be in the autumn and Party activists (of all hues) waited to hear when it would be. After the performance of David Cameron at the Conservative conference and a subsequent Tory bounce in the polls, the Brown team seemed to take cold feet and Gordon flat out denied that he had cancelled the election because he didn't think he could win, leading to the memorable riposte at PMQs by David Cameron "Well you're the first Prime Minister in history to call off an election because you thought you were going to win it!"

Judgement is also something in seeming short supply. The abolition of the 10p rate of tax being a case in point. This is a move which hurts traditional Labour Party voters more than any other group in society, it is a redistribution of wealth of sorts but in the opposite direction to that which most Labour Party members and supporters expected from Gordon Brown. This move has hit people very hard in the pocket at a time when the cost of living is rising and public resentment is rising in line with the costs. Then there was the Northern Rock fiasco and nationalising a bank! Not exactly the kind of nationalisation Old Labour stalwarts would have had in mind. Even decisions that Gordon Brown made whilst in his previous role as chancellor are now being reconsidered and reinterpreted in light of the current climate.

Goodbye Gordon

There are rumours from reliable sources that a senior Labour party figure will approach Gordon after the Crewe and Nantwich by-election and ask him to step aside for the good of the Labour Party. No matter how I look at it, I just can't see him holding onto power for much longer. He is too personally unpopular to lead the Labour Party into the General Election. The more time elapses before he goes, the less chance they will have of mounting any kind of comeback in time to dent Conservative support.

It's over Gordon. Don't shoot the messenger when he hands you the gun and the bottle of whisky and asks you to commit political suicide. Don't throw the whisky against the wall, like you have been characterised as doing with mobile phones on a regular basis. Go quietly and with some semblence of dignity and accept that all these years of waiting have been in vain. You have lost your party, you have lost the people, you have lost Scotland, you have lost your local Council but you still have your family. Perhaps you should spend more time with them.