Poor old Gordon Brown; it seems like he can’t do anything right. Labour’s panacea to an unpopular Tony Blair has generated even more antipathy then his controversial predecessor. Less than two years into the job, Brown could end up having served one of the shortest reigns as Prime Minister. Yes, he bears responsibility for Labour’s disastrous polling and cataclysmic electoral performances but he’s been unlucky in his political fortunes too and this is fatal for any politician.
Westminster has been reeling from an expenses scandal that shows no sign of ending. MPs have been claiming for duck-ponds, moat cleaning, second homes no-where near their constituencies, teddy bears and trouser presses. It’s been a shaming experience for a parliament that’s always seen itself as a cut above those corrupt continentals. Yet it’s Labour who are getting the blame more than the Conservatives for this petty corruption and greed. The two main parties have been up to their necks in milking the system, yet Brown is feeling most of the heat.
Most of the problem lies in the contrast in style and perception between Brown and David Cameron. Brown’s cerebral, Cameron’s verbal: one is tainted as ‘ancien regime’, the other represents the new. Cameron is seen as a man of action, Brown as hesitant. This may not be the reality but they are the perceptions. ‘Dour Scotsman’ is proving to be an impossible label for the Prime Minister to shake off.
Up until comparatively recently, Gordon Brown was starting to make a come back. His success at macro-management of economic responses to the global recession and his organisation and direction of the G20 Summit was garnering him plaudits in the international press and brought him to within five/six points of the Tories. He was winning support as someone who didn’t panic during a crisis and played the long game. And then the smallest of incidents tripped him up. Two of his political cronies were uncovered plotting to spread rumours on the web about Tory opponents. The mood of the Press changed overnight. All momentum from the G20 was lost and the ‘Daily Telegraph’ started printing story after story about sleaze in parliament. His fight back collapsed.
The Obama factor has had a negative impact on Gordon Brown too. Obama is young, vibrant and hip in European and British eyes. Brown is not. The contrast is cruel but then politics has never been about fairness. The much vaunted hope that some of Obama’s charisma would rub-off on Brown has not come to fruition; David Cameron, product of an elite background and education looks more likely to benefit from the ‘outsider’ anti-establishment candidate tag than Brown does.
Brown shares a large part of the blame for the depth of the economic recession in the UK. His reliance on ‘light-touch’ and ‘Principle-Based’ regulation, i.e. minimal regulation, had disastrous consequences for the taxpayer after the City gorged itself on its freedoms. A large part of his growth model proved to be illusory – he will leave Britain in debt for years to come and with social justice, a sine-qua non of the Labour Party, as far away in some sectors as it was in 1997 when the Tories were booted out. Yet, Bill Clinton and other ‘Third-Way’ politicians were believed in the same creed and acted in the same manner. He was a product of, as well as a maker of, his times.
The forthcoming European parliamentary elections will see Labour hammered. British voters will swing to the fringe parties, including the fascist BNP. And there will be calls for a swift coup to replace Brown – his allies in the ‘Guardian’ have deserted him. He is in a very lonely place. If Labour tanks spectacularly, the sharks will move in for the kill.
Brown has come out fighting but it’s the fighting of a man being battered against the ropes. His proposed parliamentary reforms may have merits but the electorate doesn’t want to listen. His re-shuffle will replace key personnel with new faces or familiar faces in new roles. He is preparing his responses to the expected electoral calamity. Gordon Brown is no more corrupt than Tony Blair, John Major or any Prime Minister before him; he runs the risk, however, of having his administration scoured with muck of political venality.