Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gordon Brown the baited bear who CAN'T or won't bite back !

  • JAS III 03092011
    Illustration by JAS
    Is there a louder silence in politics than that of Gordon Brown, prime minister of Great Britain between 2007 and 2010? At times he is so silent that you can hear almost nothing but the absence of a word from a man who is suffering seemingly eternal death by memoir. For Gordon is consigned to a political underworld, where his peculiar torment is to see himself monstered in a high-profile book, against which he must somehow set that recalcitrant jaw – only for another memoir to come down the slipway a few months later.

    Before the election, it was Andrew Rawnsley's meticulously researched account of the demise of New Labour, which laid bare the rages and the plottings and the conduct wildly unbecoming. Next came Peter Mandelson's book, in which his lordship passed on Tony Blair's view that Gordon was "mad, bad, dangerous and beyond hope of redemption", "like a mafiosi", and "flawed, lacking perspective and having a paranoia about him". Shortly thereafter we had the tome of Tone himself, whose knifing affected to come more in sorrow than in anger. Next week it is the turn of Alistair Darling, one of Brown's closest friends and allies over 20 years, though if the leaked extracts of his former chancellor's book are anything to go by, no longer on the kitchen supper list.

    What goes around comes around, some will say, and one can hardly argue with that. But in Gordon's case it comes around, and around, and around. So often have a certain set of euphemistic adjectives been applied to Brown that a strange semantic shift has taken place in my mind, and whenever I see them used in wholly unrelated circumstances, I almost have to remind myself of their pre-Brown meaning. "Brooding", "glowering", "Shakespearean" – I mustn't assume on hearing these words in other contexts that what the person is trying to say is "barking mad".

    "Brutal and volcanic" is the pairing Alistair Darling has gone for, according to reports, and doubtless we shall hear more detail in the coming days. Given the former chancellor has spoken previously of "the forces of hell" being unleashed upon him by Brown's winged monkeys (I paraphrase slightly), words may not be minced.

    Is Brown resigned to it? Is he honestly breaking the habit of a lifetime, and rising above it? Will he ever respond? This could go on for years, as a succession of Labour characters leave politics, or are left by politics, and realise that a sure way to a publisher's advance is to frontload their memoirs with recollections of the last big beast to menace their party's frontbenches. And very beastly they will doubtless recall Gordon to have been, with the possible exception of his devoted creature Ed Balls, whose claim this week that he didn't even want Darling's job in 2009 is perhaps the shadow chancellor's most screamingly funny fib so far.

    As for how much more he can take … well, I've never seen a beating like it. Or rather, a series of beatings. That Gordon is now taking these assaults offstage is somehow even more powerful than when he was stumbling around in public view like a baited bear.

    For let's not forget that people first began asking if he'd ever be put out of his misery when he was prime minister, stumbling from self-implosion to self-implosion. From the minute Brown decided against the snap election and his political capital evaporated almost overnight, it became commonplace to hear people speak of a mercy killing. Even his opponents confessed to finding it difficult to watch at times, just as Alex Ferguson admitted after his side beat Arsenal 8-2 last weekend that: "You don't want to score more." But on it has gone, with losing the election drawing no line. I've rather lost count of the score, but suspect Darling's book will nudge The Rest of World v Brown into 137-nil territory.

    Whether Gordon can technically go to ground again when he has been to ground for over a year is a conundrum, but what a knot of contradictions this quarry is. The author of a book on courage who bottled the election-that-wasn't, the pious minister's son who amassed the most lethal army of attack henchmen in contemporary politics, the self-styled grassroots politician who appears entirely uninterested in even turning up to parliament to represent the people who elected him. And now, he is the career control freak who has apparently become so laissez faire that he takes no material issue with any of the damning accounts, content to allow history to be his judge (good luck with that one, and all that).

    Perhaps Gordon really will go to his grave without telling his side of the story; perhaps he will break his silence in 20 years for a documentary only anoraks like me will watch. Perhaps he will record a blues album about it all. Whatever the truth, this latest blow reminds us that even in political death – or rather eternal torment – Gordon remains a fascinating psychological study. And, more worryingly for Labour, that even his deafening silence is more intriguing than anything Ed Miliband has ever said.