Tuesday 9 October 2007

With a flap and a cluck, his fate was sealed

I shall refrain from the obvious comparison because it is so unfair to the poor old chicken. It has its good name dragged through umpteen unflattering clichĂ©s; yet, even when confined under conditions of unimaginable cruelty, it is one of the world’s most efficient generators of protein. It has thereby contributed vastly more to humanity than Gordon Brown has done, or is now ever likely to achieve.

For this was the day when he was scheduled to see the Queen to request a dissolution of Parliament, and make a national broadcast explaining why he needed a fresh mandate for his “age of change”. When a friend asked for my predictions last week, I said that the election would definitely go ahead as the campaign had already gathered so much momentum. In the event of a U-turn, Mr Brown’s credibility would plummet and was unlikely ever to recover.

I was wrong on the first point, but this serves only to reinforce the remainder of my forecast. I do not have space here to run through the complete Blairite charge sheet on why G. Brown was unfit to be Prime Minister, but indecisiveness and political cowardice were high on the list. (They were, after all, the reasons he ended up playing second fiddle to Mr Blair in the first place.) Both accusations have now been proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

For the last few weeks, the Prime Minister had taken his eye off running the country in order to indulge in a series of political stunts. The most egregious of these was his visit to Iraq for the sole purpose of trying to upstage the Tory conference. This was surely the most cynical and odious such manoeuvre since Jo Moore pronounced that 9/11 was “a very good day” to bury bad news. It will go down in history as the moment that the man who came to office promising an end to spin fatally over-reached himself. I look forward to the footage being replayed 30 years’ hence, like Jim Callaghan serenading the TUC with that music hall song back in 1978.

Because although a November election would have been nail-bitingly close, Douglas Alexander and the other “teenagers” in Mr Brown’s team were right; it was the best chance he was ever likely to get. By 2009 the wheels will have come off the remarkable British economic bandwagon that has miraculously kept on rolling since the mid-1990s, and it is hard to see how even Macavity Brown is going to shake off the blame for that.

He has been prodigiously lucky so far, winning approval for his crisis management skills even when behind the Northern Rock drama lay an ineffective system of banking regulation introduced by one G. Brown in 1997. The problems at the Institute of Animal Health, from which the foot and mouth virus escaped, were rooted in budget cuts imposed by G. Brown. Even expenditure on flood defences had been hacked back by … well, you get the picture.

Indeed, almost the only bad news stories of the summer that did not have his fingerprints all over them were the never-ending Diana saga and the abduction of Madeleine McCann. But watch this space: investigations in both cases are continuing.

Although Tony Blair was allowed to strut the world stage for a decade, cosying up to George W. Bush and getting involved in ill-judged overseas adventures, domestic policy was always firmly under the big clunking fist of G. Brown (within the tight limits allowed by our real masters in Brussels). He was also well-known to be the principal roadblock to radical action, particularly in the NHS.

Against this background, how can he now rebuild any credibility as a principled statesman or the agent of much-needed change? I do believe that those distant clucking and flapping noises are the sound of a worn-out metaphor heading home to roost.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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