Let’s hope Gordon is not taking the Brown family’s recycling to the supermarket car-park today. That sign on the skip saying “Brown Bottles” may well unsettle him.
Like the Grand Old Duke of York, he has marched his troops to the top of the hill, and marched them down again. He orchestrated the election hysteria. He encouraged his lieutenants to talk up the prospect. He brought forward announcements which were clearly electoral in intent, like Cross Rail (Labour regularly announces Cross Rail before an election), and the financial perspective.
Did he really expect to hold a snap election? Or was it all merely a ploy to destabilise the Conservatives? Probably a bit of both. But it has backfired spectacularly. After a summer of egregious gestures — suborning Conservatives into his big tent, inviting Margaret Thatcher to tea at Number Ten — he finally overstepped the mark with his cynical visit to Iraq during the Tory Party Conference. Suddenly the truth dawned on the media and the public — this was mere spin and politicking. Blairism is back. Brown’s excuse for backing down on the election is that he wants to “get on with the business of government”. This is patently dishonest, for if it were true, he would not have stoked the election fever in the first place.
A fortnight ago he looked invincible. But then came the Tory Conference. Far from causing panic and dismay, the Prime Minister’s election threat galvanised and united the Party. David Cameron rose to the occasion, not only with the speech of a lifetime, but with a genuine programme of conservative policies — exactly what the Party activists had been craving. He covered all the bases — tax, crime, immigration, welfare, schools and hospitals, Europe — with sensible, moderate Conservative policies which appealed not only to the Party faithful but to an electorate hungry for change.
Brown read the post-Conference polls, and the private polling from marginals which actually showed a Conservative lead. And he looked defeat in the face. The man is frit. Brown is the new yellow.
A week is a long time in politics. Time enough for the great political strategist of our time to realise that he had boxed himself into a corner entirely of his own making. So the Knight of the Bitten Quick retired from the lists and declined to give battle. In Pope’s telling phrase, he was willing to wound and yet afraid to strike.
My great fear had been that Brown might call a snap election, and win, and then claim that he had a mandate for parliamentary ratification of the Renamed EU Constitution. That threat has now gone away, and the referendum campaign stays on the agenda.
On the Andrew Marr show after the election announcement, Brown looked pale and beaten. The honeymoon is over. For Gordon, it will never be glad confident morning again. For Labour, things can only get worse.
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