And so it came to pass that the Guardian is following my lead & has written what amounts to a political obituary for Gordon Brown. Considering how tooth-achingly long it took the idiot to finally to hit home after years of cack-handedly stabbing Blair in the back, I’m not holding my breath for his final demise. Anyway, I thought this paragraph really summed up the whole of Brown’s premiership.
This week, in the wake of the expenses scandal, he has announced he is considering “a new constitutional settlement”, including reducing the voting age to 16, creating a Bill of Rights and written constitution, completing the reform of the House of Lords and extending the Freedom of Information Act. Brown is full of other big ideas: that climate change and the recession require a new form of international co-operation and a new form of capitalism; that the public’s involvement in British democracy needs to be rethought and renewed; that the world is living through the greatest period of change since the industrial revolution; that today is nevertheless “a progressive age”.
It sounds like a full programme for government, not a weeks worth of announcements. But with the exception of the voting age, it’s utterly devoid of detail. There’s absolutely no way of getting a handle on any of these high-blown phrases, and as such the whole thing is completely meaningless. What the fuck does a ‘new form of capitalism’ mean? Bankers will be forced to wear odd socks when shafting us from now onwards? We’ll abandon floating currencies, but instead of the gold standard, all prices will link back to the wholesale price of plasticine? Instead of a return on your investment, a lifetime of savings will entitle you to free cream cakes through the post and a novelty alarm clock?
Through my own dazzling inertia, I left a blog post dating from summer 2007 that said how well Brown was doing as as my last word on his premiership for over a year. I was fascinated by how quickly it became a museum piece, and how I’d completely swallowed the media mood music. When I looked back on it, the reason was that the honeymoon coincided with the summer recess, and Brown was just making speeches. There was no detail, no legislative programme. Naturally he’d been preparing to be prime minister his whole life, so it had been long in the planning, and it showed.
When the detail of what he was actually going to do started to emerge, the utter poverty of his thinking was embarrassingly clear. My personal gawd-help-us moment was realising that not only was he not going to take the opportunity to scrap ID cards, but he was going to squander hours of parliamentary time buggering about trying to force through 42 day detention. You’d hope someone might have noticed that his predecessor had rather done the imbecile anti-terrorism measures to death, and had run into the buffers on this very issue. Never mind the election that never was. At that moment I suddenly come to grips with the doom-laden implications of what continuity really meant. It was not a good time.
I don’t actually have any sense of what Brown’s speeches were about during that honeymoon period, doubtless because they were similar in content to the above list – the policy equivalent of MSG – fluff with a passing sense of satisfaction and no substance. I wouldn’t be surprised if several of the same key phrases came up, certainly they smelt like a similar variety of bullshit. There’s something deeply pathological about this inability to translate any of these laudable ideas into something resembling policy. Like the man himself, it all sounds wonderful on paper, but somehow never gets off the ground.
He’s had over twenty years, in politics to rethink the public’s involvement in democracy – a phrase which, incidentally, is so riven with contradictions and the sad truth about British politics that it hurts. Democracy means rule of the people, so our ‘involvement’ in anything worth the name should be pretty fucking clear: we’re in charge. Twenty years of public life and and he can’t come up with a substantive proposal in order to save his own political skin, just a shopping list of meaningless phrases. He can’t even sack Hazel Blears properly. Prick.