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The big dithering fist

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 But now, this picture of a grim but determined, horrid by decisive individual, has been replaced by a quite different clutch of descriptions, most of which involve the word “dither”.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.

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6 comments to The big dithering fist

  • Laird

    He sounds sort of like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man (from the movie “Ghostbusters”).

    Time to cross the streams?

  • Paul Marks

    Getting rid of a Prime Minister who does not want to go is difficult.

    It was done in 1990, when a minority faction of Conservative M.P.s managed to manipulate party rules and apply insider pressure to bring down Mrs Thatcher in a corrupt and squalid coup, but Mr Brown does not have the same twisted party rule book to deal with – and he is a much better “party man” than Mrs Thatcher anyway.

    Mrs T. never hid her disdain for such things as party management – Mr Brown is more of a General Secretary type.

    Nor is he particularly incompetant (so the Mr Bean comparison is not apt). It is just the vast scale of government that defeats him – government (as you know) is a flawed thing at best. But government of this size (at least 45% of G.D.P. as government spending and what is left of Civil Society covered in regulations concerning every aspect of life) is IMPOSSIBLE to run sensibly.

    Of course an ideological anti statist would conclude that government should be reduced in size and scope – but Mr Brown is not such a man. So he tries to run the mega sized government (a government even bigger than it was in 1997) as best he can – and, of course, it is an impossible task.

    As for Mr Cameron……

    He has committed the Conservative party to the government spending plans of the Labour party.

    And he has set his face against demanding the return of any powers from the European Union.

    As Christopher Booker points out every week (in great detail – in the Sunday Telegraph) the regulations of governnment are mostly set by the European Union – so Mr Brown (or whoever) is not really to blame for most of them.

    Of course Mr Brown will not get rid of them – but nor will Mr Cameron.

    So on the size of government (government spending) there would be no change.

    And on the scope of government (the regulations and so on) there would be no change.

    It is unfortunate.

  • You’re forgetting the beloved nickname for our glorious leader that is used by the common swearblogger:

    “The One Eyed Goblin King”

  • Guy Herbert (General Secretary, NO2ID)

    Mr Brown is more of a General Secretary type.

    Steady on, there, Paul!

  • Guy: When you are General Secretary of the Central Committee, I am going to start worrying.

  • Kevin B

    Brown’s problem, (ok, one of his problems), is that he only ever wanted the job because by rights he should have got it before Tone. Now he’s PM he has no idea what he should be doing, or even what he wants to do.

    Blair had a vision. Ok, it was a third-way, middle-of-the-road, centrist vision, but it was a vision. His big problem is that he wants to be liked. How could anyone enter politics while wanting to be liked? Crazy. I seem to recall that a few years ago Tony came out with a statement calling Kyoto bunk and questioning the whole AGW scam. I’m not sure if he was pandering to whoever he was talking to at the time, but he was quickly dragged back onto the reservation. My impression of Gordon is that he wouldn’t waste the time even thinking about AGW, Kyoto or it’s implications in scientific or political terms. He’s purely concerned about the economics of it.

    You ask if Cameron will be any better. Well I’m sure you know the quick answer to that, but Cameron is another empty suit. He wants the job not to do anything with it, but because he’s a politician and for a politician, being Prime Minister is the top job.

    Although I’ve lived most of my life in England, I probably know more about the US political scene than the UK one. That’s probably because I don’t watch much TV and I don’t read many British blogs, but it’s also because the current crop of UK pols is such a bunch of non-entities that they just haven’t registered on my radar. It’s probably fitting, since they are only squabbling over who gets to be chief tadpole in a very small and smelly pond, but it makes the question of who might replace Brown or Cameron a bit difficult for me to answer.

    Whoever it is will blunder from crisis to crisis taking his/her lead from the media, pressure groups, focus groups and the back-stabbers in his/her party until something breaks and the whole edifice comes tumbling down and the streets echo to the sound of the tumbrils and the screams of the aristocrats as they are dragged up the steps of the scaffold.

    (It’s Monday. On the menu is fin du siecle with a side order helpless pessimism washed down with a large dose of cynicism.)