Magazine article Public Finance

Decline and Fall of PM Brown

Magazine article Public Finance

Decline and Fall of PM Brown

Article excerpt

The last time I occupied this column, election fever was at its height and Gordon Brown was expected to go to the polls within weeks. I predicted there would be no election this year or next. Emboldened by that success, I now offer another prediction: when Brown does hold an election, possibly as late as 2010, he will lose.

And here's a third prediction. As Brown leaves Downing Street, that moment in the Commons earlier this month - when David Cameron challenged him to 'look me in the eye' and say he had thought of easing inheritance tax before the Tories thought of it - will still echo in our heads. At that instant, Cameron located Brown's weakest spot and thus established a lethal advantage: the self-proclaimed conviction politician is nothing of the sort.

None of this is yet reflected in the opinion polls. Nor, in the near future, will it be. We have not had a moment comparable to 1992 when, in their handling of the Exchange Rate Mechanism crisis, the Conservatives lost in a single day a reputation for economic competence that had been built over a generation.

The polls do not show a decisive and consistent Tory lead. What does come out consistently is that voters' views of the two leaders are still favourable to Brown. He is seen as a stronger leader than Cameron, more courageous, more trustworthy and more understanding of ordinary people. According to ICM, more than half the voters believe Brown will get it right on the economy against barely a quarter who believe Cameron can do so.

Yet Brown's authority will, I believe, decline inexorably. His entire political persona is built on his supposed strength and courage. Once the voters start to believe he lacks those qualities, he becomes just a flinty, unsympathetic, uncharismatic Scotsman.

Blair could get away with insincerity. He was charming, cheeky and fleet of foot. His rootlessness was part of his appeal. He found no difficulty jettisoning Old Labour because he had never been part of it. He could not be accused of betrayal, because he was never a true believer.

Brown, however, has always been Old Labour to his bones; his political DNA, like the people's flag, is deepest red. As Simon Jenkins puts it in his book Thatcher and Sons: 'Brown's aversion to Thatcherism in the 1980s and early 1990s was visceral. Blair's was rather the war paint of his adopted tribe, easily washed off.'

Triangulation came naturally to Blair; in Brown's hands, it looks clumsy and cynical. Triangulation is not, after all, just about splitting the difference between Right and Left. …

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