23 April 2008

Brown: falling far and fast

The fortunes of no prime minister can have fallen so far and so fast as those of Gordon Brown. In June 2007 he was ‘elected’ unopposed after it was made clear to Labour MPs that it would be an act of unforgivable betrayal to canvass support for anybody else. Brown then emerged from Blair’s shadow and immediately affirmed the new-Labourism of which he was joint collaborator with Blair by appointing Tories and Liberal to peripheral positions in his new administration.

After dithering about whether to hold a general election, he launched three policies clearly intended to ingratiate himself with Middle England through utilising what he saw as their selfishness and prejudices. Each policy blew up in his face.

First, he set in motion an increase in the lowest tax band from 10 percent to 20 percent, while cutting the middle tax band from 22 percent to 20 percent. The effect was to increase tax on low wage earners while lowering it on higher earners. The real Middle England party, Britain Tories, have cynically ganged up with Labour Party rebels to force a humiliating reversal.

Second, to play the ‘tough on security’ card, which he thought would play well in Middle England and triangulate the Tories, Brown has championed a proposed police power to detain people for six weeks before charging them with a crime. A measure such as this, an anathema to Britain pretence at liberal democracy, has invoked the hostility of much of the establishment and has again brought about the cynical opposition of the Tories, thus leaving Brown attempted triangulation flat on its face.

Third, Brown has embraced the last refuge of the scoundrel, patriotism. As the union weakens, his calls for Britishness, saluting flags and military pride appear irrelevant, silly and an insult even to the intelligence of Middle England.

Brown, the eternal deputy, has tried to nose himself into a political space carved out in Blair decade. But just as Blair has moved on, so have the political circumstances. And with neither principle nor success in his hands he has fallen fast. In local elections on 1 May, Brown needs to be given a bloody nose. Yet voting for Cameron will only make matters worse. Only votes for Galloway and the Greens can send the message that is needed.