Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I am going to admit something very, very embarrassing. When I was young and foolish and believed in new dawns, I had a tiny little crush on Gordon Brown.
You have to cast your mind back to the late nineties, when the talk was all of Tory sleaze. The papers were filled with Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken. The government had lost economic credibility after the ERM debacle, and suffered from a sense of drift. Everyone was making jokes about John Major's cones hotline and that speech he made about old maids cycling across village greens and the thwack of willow on leather. (For my international readers, this is not an S&M reference, but a cricketing expression.)
There, like two beacons of hope on the horizon, were Gordon and Tony. It seems absurd now, with all that has happened, but they represented everything new, vigorous, exciting. They were young and serious and determined; they seemed even idealistic. Brown appeared not dour and livid, but serious and brooding. I actually got a little thrill when he started talking about macro-economics.
Something terrible happened to him along the way. I think he allowed his burning desire for the top job to eat away at him. He sat, deep in the Treasury, biting his nails, furious that Blair, with his easy charm and plausible manner, was getting all the love. Then, in an almost Shakespearian twist, when Brown finally elbowed Blair aside and grasped the holy grail of power, it turned to dust in his hands. The economy, his special subject, his claim to ultimate credibility, smashed into a million pieces. There was not even time for him to take a victory lap before he was faced with the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression.
What is really interesting about Gordon Brown is that he often accuses the Tories in general and David Cameron in particular of having a sense of entitlement. The shrinks call this projection: you accuse your enemy of your own character flaws. I think what happened to Brown is that, in all those years of yearning and waiting, he developed a huge, fat sense of his own entitlement. It seems to baffle him that when he finally got what he felt he deserved, there was no credit waiting for him.
The voters, disgruntled over the expenses scandal, frightened by the massive national debt, disenchanted that the children still could not read, upset over the tragic roll call of fatalities in Afghanistan, bitter about the dodgy dossiers and the missing weapons of mass destruction, turned their pent-up ire on the Prime Minister. There was, it turned out, no love for Gordon. There is no love still, as the Labour Party languishes at its lowest point in the polls since Michael Foot ran on the longest suicide note in history.
Brown's view of himself is that he is a hard-working devoted public servant, who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and steers by an unimpeachable moral compass. He talks often of his values, and of his devotion to the people. He specialises in doing the Right Thing, unlike those shiftless public schoolboys on the opposition benches. In order to maintain this pristine persona in his own mind, he cannot admit to mistakes. One brick removed would bring the whole edifice down. This is why he continues to insist that the crash was nothing to do with him. It is why he ignores the fact that countries like Canada and Spain avoided a banking crisis. His hands must remain clean.
Just now, the Prime Minister gave the most inexplicable performance on The World At One. Martha Kearney is running an excellent series of programmes where the voters can telephone in and ask the party leaders questions. David Cameron appeared last week, and acquitted himself very well. He is much better when faced with real people with unscripted questions than in the artificial arena of the debates. He was polite, engaged, and articulate. Interestingly, he seems unfazed when people disagree violently with him, not in an I know better way, but in an each to each is what we teach way. He appears to understand that there are people who will always oppose his policies and his ideas, and that is their constitutional right.
Gordon, on the other hand, takes it personally. Where Cameron understands that people who argue with him simply hold a different point of view, Mr Brown appears to believe that anyone who opposes him is utterly wrong. He growled, he talked across callers, he hectored and lectured. I listened in utter astonishment. There were long moments where you could hear him actually banging the table. I could imagine Lord Mandelson of Foy putting his head in his hands in despair back at Labour HQ. This is not the way to win over the electorate. The voters are battered and bruised. My sense is that they would like not only a few brave policies and effective economic solutions, but also some humility and empathy from their elected representatives.
As a political performance, it was disastrous. It is very hard to understand why such an old hand as Gordon Brown would make so many schoolboy errors in one fifty minute slot. I think it is because, much as he talks of The People, he only likes them in the abstract. In reality, he is enraged with the electorate, for not understanding him, for not giving him the love, for denying him the garlands that they once gave so generously to Tony Blair. However many spin doctors or pollsters or body language advisers or focus groupers advise him, he cannot prevent this rage and resentment from seeping out round the edges.
It makes me sad. This is my party that he is leading to catastrophe. There are still great arguments to be made for the role of government, but Brown is not making them. He is just getting cross with the voters. The people are not right all of the time. They have quirks and contradictions and sudden strange mood swings. They can be nimbyish and demanding and prone to bizarre moments of Cleggmania. But they deserve better than this, Prime Minister.
If you want to have a listen, and have access to the BBC iplayer, you can hear the oddness here:
Picture of the day is a slightly pointless red collage, just to take your mind off all that election grumpiness:
(All pictures by me, in case you didn't guess.)