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|Gordon Brown´s difficult succession|
Corriere della Sera - May 11th 2007
Partly, this oddity arises from the fact that
But will they? Gordon Brown’s difficulty, in a way, is that he is too well known to the voters. Mr Brown will be a new prime minister. But having been at the very heart of Mr Blair’s government for a decade, he can hardly claim to represent a complete change. After such a long spell of Labour government, the simple rhythms of politics suggest that when an election is called voters are likely to think that change is what is needed. That is especially true given the main innovation of Tony Blair: that the two main parties now essentially compete for the same, centrist position. Mr Blair stole many of the ideas of his Conservative predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and thereby destroyed the idea that the Labour Party stands for something completely different, a high taxing and high spending socialist alternative. Today’s Conservative leader, David Cameron, is trying to steal from Mr Blair, both in style and in centrist substance.
Mr Brown may not be truly new, but he will still try to show that he is different from Mr Blair. Most likely, he will bring in to his government quite a lot of new, younger ministers in order to suggest that Labour is capable of rejuvenating itself. He will launch a dazzling series of new policy initiatives, which he has been preparing for at least the past two years, in order to show that he has fresh ideas and new energy. The trouble is that he will find it hard to change the public’s already entrenched image of him and of Labour.
The public’s image of Labour is of a government that has had many successes but which is now becoming corrupt and arrogant. Mr Brown is not thought of as being personally corrupt. In fact he is thought to have the highest integrity. He has managed to distance himself from the main corruption scandal in recent years, the alleged sale of seats in the House of Lords in return for big donations to Labour Party finances. He has also escaped all blame for
Gordon Brown grew up as the son of a Protestant preacher in
Mr Brown is thus clean, a man of integrity, but not a man who is well liked. He gained some humanity by getting married while in office, and then through family tragedy, when his first child died at birth five years ago. He has been rather admirably private in his reaction to that tragedy and then in the use (or, non-use) of his subsequent babies for political purposes, certainly by comparison with Mr Blair, who exploited his own new baby quite brazenly. But Mr Brown’s main political problem is not his handling of his personal life. It is that, in person, he does not seem very appealing to the public.
To anyone who has met him and talked to him, this seems surprising. Gordon Brown can be an entertaining and interesting man to share lunch or dinner with. He tells good political jokes. He is full of stories, and is good at explaining his own policy ideas. He has that crucial political talent, a good memory for faces and people: I remember being impressed by this the second or third time I met him, when we encountered each other unexpectedly at an art exhibition in London, and he surprised me by instantly recalling that I have a background in Japan (which was relevant for the exhibition, since it was of some very Japanese-style paintings by Claude Monet).
Despite those personal virtues, Mr Brown comes across badly in public. He is extremely awkward on television, with his answers to questions turning quickly into boring monologues, as if by a dull university professor. His jaw seems to wobble rather unattractively when he is interviewed, which is a nervous facial characteristic seemingly absent in direct personal conversation. In the end, the truth is that Mr Brown is not a natural political creature in this television-dominated age: he is more an Al Gore than a Bill Clinton, and certainly not a Tony Blair.
So the question facing him, and
After all, Mr Brown has presided over a decade of economic success, for which he can claim much credit. What the Labour government has not yet managed is to produce a consistent improvement in the public services of health, education and transport, services mainly paid for by the taxpayer. Despite having been finance minister, no one really knows what Mr Brown’s view is about the public services, for he has seemed a grudging ally to Mr Blair’s reforms. If he is to win the next general election, and make himself more than just a temporary, stopgap prime minister, he will have to show the public what he really thinks about such issues. And he must convince them that the public services would be safer in his hands than in Mr Cameron’s. Mr Brown faces a difficult, and nervously jaw-wobbling, couple of years before he faces that true electoral test.