Saturday, 27 September 2008


One or two people are asking why I wrote so despairingly about the Gordon Brown moment at the Labour Party conference. This is why.

1. Sarah Brown says a few words to welcome her husband onto the platform. Result: one and a half pages in today's Guardian bearing the huge headline,


One and half pages, because...?

2. In the same newspaper, an article by Jonathan Freedland, in which he writes:

The immediate risk for Cameron is that he is simply dwarfed by the scale of the meltdown. One cabinet minister this week said he regarded Cameron as a "good times" politician, his smiley, wind-turbine brand of politics fine when the sun is shining but too lightweight for grave times such as these. It sounds wishful, but the minister might have a point. Blair's sunny style, which worked so well in the prosperous 1990s, might not have connected in a recession either.

This could explain why Brown's jibe that this is "no time for a novice" struck home. Home Office minister Tony McNulty said that at that moment he could feel Cameron and George Osborne shrinking back into short trousers. He was crediting that to Brown's speech, but the real trouser-shriveller is surely the economic crisis itself.

I don't care what Freedland says about Cameron or Brown, it's the passage I have emphasised in bold that I find so painfully inadequate. To say that it is jejune, petty, stupid, pointless, brainless, desperate is to be kind to it.

I don't care whether or not Mrs Brown introduces Gordon, and I certainly don't care whether half a sentence in a speech has succeeded or not in making people feel that they are back in short trousers, nah-nah-ni-nah-nah. It utterly pisses me off.

What I expect of a prime minister is that he presents us with the state of affairs as he sees it, relates it to certain principles, suggests what might be done, what are likely to be the results of doing it, and why, if he is a Labour prime minister, it is worth doing.

This is not an impossible demand. The rest is stupid games and I have had enough of stupid games.


Mark Granier said...

Stupid games, yes, certainly. But surely this is, for the most part what politics is about, as it is played to us by those who do the playing. Politics has far more to do with getting and staying in power than with inspired decisions, the truly judicious use of that power. So we hope and pray for the odd crumb of truth, the occasional half move in the direction of sanity. I often think of Heaney's rueful visionary poem, From The Republic of Conscience, where public leaders "weep to atone for their presumption to hold office". What gives this its poignancy is the vast gap, that hopeless distance from reality. But I try not to get too angry of depressed about it (though over here the narrow-minded, mushy-brained failure of the Lisbon Treaty turned me rabid for a little while).

George S said...

Yes, but it's worse now. There is a serious crisis in the country and in the party and this is no way to address it. It is worse because Brown has none of the charismatic glibness of Blair or Cameron and he should be bright enough to know it. He should also recognise that others already know this, and may even welcome it, or have welcomed it.

Finally, it is not even so much that he goes about business the way he does but that a quality newspaper with bright journalists yaps the way it does and actually applauds it. I have never felt my stomach churn quite so much as it has this last week.

The Brown moment, for me, speaks volumes about our current condition, which does seem to be a lot worse than under Blair. There was a sense that the charismatic glibness was in aid of something Blair actually believed in. He may have been wrong in believing it, but there was at least reason and judgment in his manner.

In Brown, of whom I expected something else, something possibly better, I see nothing but a desperate,meaningless wind. That is why I think he is a lost man.

Gwil W said...

The classic dour Scot should always play the classic dour Scot role for it goes down well with the rest of us. Anything else sniffs of proverbial red herring.
I'm going to read about coal miners - my grandad was one when he was a boy.

George S said...

My own gran'pappy on the shopfloor of a shoe factory...

Gwil W said...

George, how times have changed. China supplies the world's shoes now. I wonder if your gran'pappy's factory is still in business?
My mum told me about the colliery house they lived in at Gateshead. I wrote a small poem as a tribute to a boy who had to go down the pit at the age of 12 or so. I hope you'll allow it here.

Boys, who can barely write, kneel
deep down, miles out to sea beneath black-ribbed snads, before
the coal-face and pneumoconiosis.
Stripped to the waist, mine's as thin as a pit prop, a crab-shadow clawing for coal to make a rich man richer.
From time to time he swallows
cold sweet tea from a tin,
observed by a sleepy canary
and a blind pit pony in the light of a Davy Lamp. When the clock
strikes I prepare his sink;
water, scrubbing brush, soap.
Listen for his footfall. The house,
within spitting distance of the shaft, is going to its knees;
coming apart at its dusty seams.
Buckled and sagging, it creaks and
groans with each subsiding night.

Note: The houses were demolished when they became too dangerous to live in. The family upped sticks moved to Morecambe. Grandad's father was in charge of the 'blind pit ponies' - animals which never saw daylight.