Friday, 30 April 2010

All in the mind? The defeat of Gordon Brown


And so we move to the endgame for Gordon Brown. For a Tent in the French Camp, read a Public Hall in Birmingham. Here was an exhausted man, a prematurely agèd man, grey of face and with red-rimmed eyes, gasping for breath as he spoke, staring with hatred at the young pretender, Cameron, and the younger upstart Clegg, shaking his head and grinning at random his awful, loveless, lifeless grin.
“Pray do not mock me: I am a very foolish, fond old man,
Fourscore and upwards; and, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful: for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is; and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments...”

Even were he to win, which now appears impossible, somehow he would still have lost. When one of your own cabinet ministers (the personable Alan Johnson) publicly describes you on the eve of the critical and defining debate as “a politician not of this age,” then surely you’re starting to hear the music of your god’s departure in the air.
Shakespearean analogies come to mind simply because there is something Shakespearean in the tale of a man who is finally trapped and destroyed by the one thing he’s always feared and avoided.
When the Labour Leader John Smith died in May, 1994, Gordon Brown could have challenged Tony Blair and fought for the crown. But instead he preferred a secret deal which snipped out an indenture making him the regent of domestic policy and Blair’s heir presumptive.
When Blair stood down in June, 2007, Gordon Brown could have insisted on a leadership election, which he would undoubtedly have won, making him the undisputed chief. But he didn’t. Instead he allowed his minions to bribe or bully potential contenders away from the field – to which, of course, they eventually returned, whispering malice.
And when, shortly afterwards, he was riding high in the polls and being urged to go for an early election and get his own national mandate, he wavered then flunked it.
When a man avoids the battlefield so much and so often, it can only mean, surely, that he is so terrified of rejection that in his own mind he is already defeated?
Which secret, interior prophecy now appears to be self-fulfilled.
Perhaps someone will, one day, write the book or screenplay which explains what happened in his life, and when, to make this fear take root.
Footnote, May 1: Neither during the stormy campaign of 1992 nor during his terminal tempest in 1997 do I remember John Major conjuring the shade of Margaret Thatcher out of Valhalla to stand at his shoulder. Still, since Campbell and Mandelson, the magicians of Blair’s original victory, are now the restoration men trying the shore up Brown, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that TB is suddenly back centre-stage.
Asked by Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson in this morning’s Times whether he reckons there should have been a leadership election when he stood down in 2007, he replies neither “yes,” nor “no,” but thus:
“I think we all know who would have won that.”
Which is precisely the point I am making in this blog.
An ending with another bit of Shakespeare? Why not –
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

For Gordon Blair, the tide was at its fortunate flood three times before. But not this week.

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