Gordon “The Rock” Brown is a fantasy

Posted by Richard D North under Dare to be dull / Presentation or policy? / The Initiative Blizzard on 11 October 2008

Gordon Brown is the most remarkable case of perception management we have yet seen in politics. He casts himself as the nation’s rock in a metdown, but even now he seems incapable of the modesty and honesty which would make for good government.

This site is all about government and in part about the need for politicians to speak truthfully about their role in it. In the modern world, that requires us to unpick personality from policy and phoney perceptions from practical reality. That is why the fantasy premiership of Gordon Brown matters to MBG.

Here’s a good reminder from Sky TV of the unfolding Brown premiership

For a son of the manse, etc, Gordon Brown seemed and seems to have remarkably slight contact with the ordinary standards of truthfulness which in every breath he has told us to expect from him.

Put it this way: with Mr Blair, at least we knew we were getting a theatrical production. We knew what we were getting. Not so with Gordon Brown.

Here was a man who was spun as being above spin. More, he was its antithesis. He was sold as being strong on substance. The narrative his people wove was of a man whose reality was solid, intellectual and serious. He himself inaugurated his premiership as ushering in a new government, of strength and resolve.

The media, always suckers for a change and a narrative, lapped it up. 

For a few months, Gordon Brown was able to seem vaguely strong and silent during a series of crises (a bombing, some flooding and an animal disease outbreak) in which there was a well-oiled state response involving professionals who had no need of much from the Prime Minister. Looking solid was all that was required: a perception management issue.

These were duly spun as masterful performances. There soon followed a series of dents to this story. There were instant initiatives, a U-turn (the 10 percent tax fiasco), indecision (trailed and cancelled general election), prevarication.

We should only be as unkind as necessary. If GB was merely a clunky, unattractive man we could easly warm to him as born that way and so what. But he has allowed himself to be bullied into phoney smiles and an imitation of the touchy-feely which is especially creepy. He is a living embodiment of the wisdom of not pretending to be what one is not unless the performance comes naturally or can be convincing.

We should also remember that Brown has never acquired a reputation for the honesty he trumpets as being his hallmark.

As a dark horse, he need only have kept quiet and delivered solid achievement for others to big-up. But actually, he has always pumped out nonsense about himself and his works. 

Let’s begin with the whole “no more Tory boom and bust” thing. Boom and bust cycles were in much better shape in the last years of Tory government and Brown had only not to mess up that inheritance to have a decent economy. Ditto, independence for the Bank of England. John Major had inaugurated a new openness in the way the Bank’s committee issued its advice on inflation control – all any Chancellor had to do was follow that advice.

Thus leaves aside the deeper problem of whether the tripartite system for financial regulation which Gordon Brown invented has proved fit for purpose. 

In an ordinary politician this lack of frankness would be accepted as normal. But Mr Brown fashioned an image of himself as thriving on a higher standard of truthfulness.

As we were buffeted around in the credit crunch of September and October 2008, Brown repeatedly said that it was a crisis imported from the US. Indeed, it seemed that the UK economic downturn, led by a revaluation of the housing market, was going to be hidden under the US story. Had that worked, it would have been a truly dreadful case of deception.

Of course it won’t work. The degree to which the crisis in the UK financial world was to do with UK government policy will emerge, and Gordon Brown’s culpability with it.

There is plenty of blame to go round, but Gordon Brown won’t escape a share.  

Here’s a prediction. The UK plan which seems to be leading the world in framing what a rescue strategy might look like will emerge as the creation of clever Treasury officials and perhaps of Alistair Darling. Let’s hope Gordon Brown heaps praise on them.

As the plan was announced and huge quantities of tax-payer involvement were put into play, Gordon Brown still seemed to think it was him had worked a miracle. He claimed not so much the high ground as the craggy terrain of solidity:

For savers, for small businesses, and for home owners, we must in an uncertain and unstable world be the rock of stability on which the British people can depend.

This is the first financial crisis of the global age. In extraordinary times, our financial markets ceasing to work, the Government cannot just leave people to be buffeted about.

The next day two Times writers cast quite important doubt on Gordon Brown as The Rock. Peter Riddell, never unnecessarily brutal, said that Brown had a dangerous habit of avoiding any admission of vulnerability, not least in refusing to admit the country was in recession. Camilla Cavendish said she would have more faith in Brown’s claims to know how to regulate world finance if he had managed to regulate UK finances well.

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