Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Gordon Brown

I have always liked Gordon Brown. 

He's always seemed to me to be an honourable man, an un-showy politician and (despite what the spinners would try and tell you) a highly successful Chancellor who quietly redistributed wealth in the early years of the Labour government. 

True, he was very much part of the New Labour project, but I saw him as a moderator, curbing the worst excesses of Tony Blair. Shortly after the election of May 1997, Tories of my acquaintance wagged their fingers at me and said, "You wait - we'll see their true colours now they're in power." I waited. And waited. The true colours I had hoped Labour would show never actually materialised and I was, like many people, bitterly disappointed that they had failed to act decisively on so many things that mattered to me. I put this down to Blair, and had great hopes that Brown's administration would roll back some of the more 'Tory-Lite' policies we'd seen from the Blair years. Brown was, I felt, more committed to social justice than his predecessor, more in touch with ordinary people (as far as one can be at the top of the political tree). True, he was mocked for his social awkwardness, the rictus smile which appeared in photo opps, but at heart I always felt that here was an honourable man whose real smile (on the few occasions we saw it), was genuine and full of joy.

When my 10 year old daughter, facing a major operation on her eye to try and save it after a retinal detachment caused by Sturge Weber Syndrome, wrote to him because she knew he, too, had had problems with his eyesight, she received a letter back from 10 Downing Street. Now, we know it came from the Direct Communications Unit, and was not hand-written by him, but it was written in a very informal style and detailed the accident which had caused him to lose his sight. Even if Brown himself never set eyes on her original letter, his team cared enough to pitch the response just right for a scared 10 year old, rather than giving a stock response. (Compare that with the non-response Brown got from the Met when he wrote to them regarding being a possible victim of hacking).

After the initial honeymoon period (he was impressive in response to the terrorist attack on Glasgow airport, for example), my faith in him started to wobble. His "government of all the talents" appeared to comprise the talents of slapstick and self-harm, to a point where I started to wonder if some of those allegedly working for him didn't have some other agenda (how far-fetched that seemed at the time!). His decision not to call an early general election seemed strange, as it would have given him extra legitimacy and drawn a definite line between him and Blair. The policies I had been appalled to see a Labour government introduce (academies, outsourcing of government contracts to the profit-driven private sector BPOs) continued seemingly unabated, and so much of it seemed at odds with what I knew of Brown's views and convictions. 

I concluded that although he might be a decent man, and a fine Chancellor, maybe he'd fallen victim to the Peter Principle. Maybe he just couldn't hack it in the top job? Perhaps being decent and having values was no longer enough? Maybe the Blairites were still exerting too much power for him to make any real difference?

During the 2010 election campaign, as one gaffe led to another disaster, it seemed clear that the value- and charm-free glibness of David Cameron and the student-bribing antics of Nick Clegg were probably going to sink Gordon. Both were more at home with the sound-bite populism of the leaders' debates than Brown, even though they had little to say of any real worth. Occasionally, in the big speeches, there were glimpses of the man I hoped Gordon was, but it was not enough, and so we now have the Slash and Burn Coalition wrecking British society to line the pockets of their influential, tax-avoiding cronies and its "Greasy Pole Social Mobility", where a few 'entrepreneurs' (God, how I'm growing to hate that term) make good from humble beginnings (and then pull the drawbridge up behind them) rather than real mobility (ie, modest improvements in living standards) for the majority.

Back in December 2010 when I started this blog I wrote about the last Labour government and what it had done for me, my family and millions of other ordinary citizens (all of which is now being unravelled). I also stated that:

Some of the trashing of Brown has been, frankly, disgraceful and I think it shows the mettle of the man that he's put up with it. In time, I think his reputation may recover - after all, John Major is now seen as a genial elder statesman!

I think that process may now be beginning. Yesterday's revelations about the 10 year campaign of hacking/blagging to trawl personal information on not just Brown, but on his son's medical condition, will have made all but the most venal commentators (and there are some, if you look at the comments on any given news story) feel compassion for a man whose family life had already been touched by the tragedy of his infant daughter's death. I remember the awful moment we received our daughter's diagnosis - how on earth would we have coped in similar circumstances if we had been - effectively - doorstepped by an extremely powerful and ruthless newspaper editor telling us that she was going to make our family front page news for no other reason than because she could? 

Suddenly, the inaction, the 'gaffes', the seeming ineffectiveness of Brown's term of office, start to make some sense. I doubt Gordon Brown is the sort of man for whom sucking up to the Murdoch Empire came easily, but knowing that they were always hovering around him, waiting to pounce, effectively hobbled his government. He was, no doubt, advised that he had to keep Murdoch and his henchmen/women sweet, the received wisdom of the time being that News International/Corporation were the king-makers. How much do you imagine it stuck in his craw to have to attend the harpies' wedding, knowing what she was capable of?

In fact, as I write this, another vile revelation has just appeared on my Twitter feed via the redoubtable Marina Hyde

Not only was Brown battling the Blairites (although given Blair's closeness to Murdoch, we probably can't rule out some additional influence there, too). Trying to run a country under the constant threat of blackmail (not that you've done anything wrong, but just that your personal life might be spread across the media). Throw in a global financial crisis to throw all your figures off-balance, and that's game over.

Unlike Cameron, Brown has never used his children to further his career and appeal to the masses, so why is their medical history of any 'public interest'? It's been pointed out today that the Murdoch-friendly Blair's refusal to admit whether Leo had had his MMR was 'respected' (if that's a term which could ever be applied to the Murdoch media).

So, I'm a little happier. I didn't want to think that Brown was a) just like Blair b) incompetent, and now it looks like I was right all along. What we are learning now explains so much about the Brown years which seemed inexplicable at the time. It explains why he never seemed to have the "courage of his convictions" (although now it seems there was a different kind of courage he was having to employ), why he always looked like a haunted man (because the Brooks ghoul was hovering over him) and why, as he left Downing Street with his family just over a year ago, we finally saw that 'real' smile which had not made much of an appearance in recent years.