There were points on Friday where he looked like he wouldn’t survive the day as Prime Minister. Hell he is still hanging on in there, and appears to have weathered the storm for the time being. However, the question has to be asked. Why has Gordon Brown failed as Prime Minister?
The first thing to say is that he has failed. There are people, even members of my own family who would say that Brown has been unlucky. This is just burying your head in the sand. So far his failures have taken us to the brink of the nightmare scenario for many normal Scottish people, a Thatcherite Conservative government. So apart from being a general klutz, and being Scottish (which offends the Daily Mail/Torygraph/Times reading mindset who think that British Prime Ministers should be upstanding Home Counties type who speak with an East Ren accent), we should establish the key reasons for Browns failure in Number 10.
1) It’s the Economy Stupid – For a man who spent the previous decade ensconced in Number 11, Brown has been remarkably poor in handling the economy since he took over. His sureness of touch even deserted him in the months before becoming PM, when he took the remarkable decision to raise taxes for the poorest paid.
Yet it is the credit crunch which has destroyed Browns reputation in one fell swoop. Despite the protests, there are 3 actions Brown could have taken which would have slowed the onset of recession and made it a less severe downturn. Brown could have raised the top rate of Income Tax sooner. Indeed, he could have done this in 1997 when the Institute of Fiscal Studies claimed that there was a black hole in the finances, during the Election campaign. Instead Brown decided to raid the pension funds. He could have imposed a tighter regulatory regime on the financial services rather than the disastrous “light touch” regime which is similar to the Tories Lazez Faire approach to the Financial Industry in this country. More recently he could have insisted that our banks are less strict with their lending in order to aid the liquid economy.
2) No Clean Break from Blair – Despite being one of the key architects of the “New Labour Project”, Brown has always cultivated an image of being more of a believer in socialism than Blair or Mandelson. Yet this doesn’t really bear any scrutiny, with many examples of his time in the Treasury coming to mind. This didn’t stop many members of the Scottish press trumpeting Brown as being one of us. People who really should have known better.
Browns promotion should have seen a range of policies designed to take New Labour into the post-Blair era in a more comfortable manner. Though personally I would have liked to have seen an end of the Thatcherism-Lite era, and seen a revival of real Labour values. Instead of which, Brown has carried on the New Labour mantra without putting his own stamp on things, and by stealing policies from the Tories. The main policy stolen from the Tories was the intention to look at Inheritance Tax… weeks after “boy” George Osborne announced that a Conservative government would raise the Inheritance Tax threshold, thus spiking Browns plan to hold a General Election in the autumn of 2007.
The key point here though is that Brown has singularly failed to promote any vision of where he would like the UK to be going, far less a roadmap to take us there. The “Blairite” outriders who would like the removal of Brown despair at the lack of “New Labour” policies – policies which saw 3 consecutive election wins but shed 3.95 million votes in the process.
3) Lack of Clear Communication – Brown is not the best communicator, his image as a dour Scotsman is probably an accurate one, speaking as a dour Scotsman. It does seem as though he struggles to empathize with people, something his predecessor (whatever you say about Blair) had in buckets. Sorry, but this is a perceived failing when his version of sympathy sounds like reading the phone book.
4) Slow Reaction to the Expenses Crisis – Perception is everything in politics, and the perceived wisdom is that Cameron has had a better expenses crisis than Brown. Sure he had to get rid of one of his advisors (Andrew Mackay) and his fellow MP (Wife and contender to be in Cameron’s first cabinet) Julie Kirkbride, but he did get rid of them. On the other hand, Brown held on to Darling, but more crucially he kept Hazel Blears and James Purnell in their posts, until they decided to knife Brown in the front. Can’t remember whether Caroline Flint had been accused of expense fraud, if she had it would have been an awful hat trick of assassins who should have been sacked first.
Politicians have to regain our trust after this scandal, and there has been nowhere near the required justice for MP’s actions. Brown’s response to the scandal was to announce, not that he was going to make Westminster’s expenses system as transparent as Holyrood’s, but that he was looking into the way we vote for MP’s. Ridiculous, and completely the wrong time to bring this up. Still at least he didn’t re-employ any disgraced former ministers like Peter Hain. Ooops!
If Brown is to recover, there are several steps he needs to take to remedy these problems. He needs to come up with some policies which will appeal to the common 5/8ths; he needs to stand up more for the ordinary man in the street. He needs to stop being an apologist for the banks, and get them to start lending to small/medium size businesses. Most of all, he needs to listen, and show that he has listened instead of patronising us all. As Geoff at SNP Tactical Voting observed at the start of the week, Brown could still pull off a remarkable election win. Cameron is still the most likely victor in the next General Election, but he is not home al Votingand hosed yet.