Tuesday 15 April 2008

Not waving but drowning

Tony Blair may have been wrong about many things, but he was absolutely right on one point: Gordon Brown clearly isn’t up to the job.

Some pundits have compared the unfolding events in Downing Street to a Shakespearean tragedy, but to me the closest parallel is with James Cameron’s film, Titanic.

The “election that never was” last autumn was the shuddering impact with the iceberg, which was laughed off as it rattled the crystal in the first class dining room.

We have just passed the stage of that tense meeting in the saloon, with the pollsters taking on the role of the ship’s designer in explaining to the dumbstruck captain and White Star Line chairman that the allegedly unsinkable vessel is doomed.

Soon the decks will begin to tilt crazily, and the more enterprising male passengers will begin donning ladies’ frocks in an attempt to secure a place in the lifeboats. A tactic, incidentally, which would have served some of our outgoing Labour county councillors rather well in the age of all-women shortlists.

Ever since he made the incredible claim that he would still have abandoned his election plans if he had been on course for a 100-seat majority, it has seemed that poor Gordon can do nothing right. Every action appears calculated to encourage the impression of chronic dithering, and to get up the noses of people on both sides of any argument.

We saw that in his bizarre decision to receive but not touch the Olympic torch and its escorting Chinese thugs; and in the way he subsequently conveyed the impression that he was boycotting an opening ceremony he had apparently never intended to attend in the first place.

A stop was supposed to be put to this sort of thing by the recruitment to Number 10 of Stephen Carter, chief executive of the leading City financial PR firm, Brunswick. Now one of the few things that I do actually know a bit about is financial PR, since I have made a living out of it for 25 years; a living, but not a fortune.

I stand amazed at the way it has suddenly become the new rock ‘n’ roll. I can really empathise with those retired first division footballers who played for thirty bob a week, a free orange at half time and a nice hot bath at the end of the match, and now gawp in amazement at the mansions and WAGs of today’s Premiership players.

National newspapers carry fawning profiles of Mr Carter’s former boss, mega-rich Brunswick founder Alan Parker, whose mastery of networking is such that he somehow contrives to enjoy close friendships with both Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Meanwhile “chief of staff” Carter is getting up the noses of the Cabinet by sending them off into “break out groups” and bombarding them with management speak. He has also decreed that they must stop attacking Messrs Cameron and Osborne for being toffs, even though it is perhaps the most telling point that can be made against them.

Let me share with you a closely guarded secret. I have fought the famed Brunswick in contested takeover bids, and worked with them on agreed transactions. I was much relieved to discover that the incompetence of these alleged masters of the universe at least equalled my own. At any rate, when we were on opposing sides, mine always won.

So I reckon there’s a sporting chance that Mr Carter will not provide the answers, and he will end up floundering alongside Mr Brown in the icy ocean. We all know what happened at the end of James Cameron’s film. In real life, let us hope that his namesake Captain Dave has his radio operator listening attentively for our distress calls, and can steer the Conservative Carpathia alongside in time to pluck at least some survivors from the water.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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