I do not always follow politics. When things are going well for politicians I do not like I prefer not to think about it. But now, I am thinking quite a lot about Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister.
Two labels have been attached to Gordon Brown, in succession. First, there was the big clunking fist metaphor. But now, this picture of a grim but determined, horrid by decisive individual, has been replaced by a quite different clutch of descriptions, most of which involve the word “dither”. This transformation was famously described by Lib Dem wrinkly Vince Cable as from Stalin to Mr Bean. So, which is true?
The answer is: both. If all that Gordon Brown was was Mr Bean, we could all relax, except those of us in the immediate vicinity of the man, such as his wife, secretaries, immediate subordinates, children, and anybody unfortunate enough personally to encounter him in the course of his staggerings around. But Gordon Brown is Mr Bean with the powers of a Prime Minister – Mr Bean a hundred feet high, able to ruin thousands with one ill-judged swipe of his arm, one petulant kick. This is not somebody who dithers only about whether to have one lump or two or perhaps three, although the telly-comedy sketchers are surely at work on that very notion as I write. This is a man who can, as and when he feels inclined, shut down this entire industry, or that one, or that one, depending on what he finally decides, or on what he merely hears himself saying or finds himself doing. He could rescue that whole area of the nation’s life from ruin, if he could only make up his mind about it, and he may do that or he may not, which actually, if you think about it, means that he will not. It is the combination of his vast powers to wreck (mostly to wreck) with his inability to decide on a “vision” – that is to say, on a recognisable and single path of wreckage which most of us could feel safe about not being in the way of – that makes this man so particularly scary, even by the standards of your average Prime Minister.
Blair at least seemed at least to have arrived in office with some idea of the limits of government power, and to have various notions about relying on it a bit less (along with others that involved relying on it far more). During the Blair years, Mr Blair would announce policies, some of which were sensible, and Mr Brown – the brooding, glowering dragon-in-a-cave Wagnerian bass Mr Brown – would either pay for them and mess them up or else just mess them up by not paying for them, depending on his mood. As methods of government go this one could have been a lot worse, although, as we are now discovering to our cost, it could have been a lot better. But now, our ruler is a fussy and insomniac incompetent, Mime with the powers of Wotan, but without Wotan’s hard-won wisdom. As somebody said over the weekend, what you want is somebody intelligent but lazy. What we have is an industrious fool.
The final touches to the story of the Brown moment are been inked in by the political commentators, and I do not believe that Mr Brown is going to be able, ever, to shake loose from these judgments. He is out of touch. He is terminally (Janet Daley makes much of the Terminal 5 fiasco) incompetent, and his followers are in disarray.
What follows? Will Mr Brown’s party sack him? Soon, I mean. It seems unlikely, but maybe. Will Mr Cameron be any better when he eventually takes over, as he surely now must? Ditto.