Saturday, April 14, 2007

Brown Plays it Smart

Brown hits the right note in his interview in today's Guardian. After weeks of Blairite assaults (the Milburn-Clarke web-site, the Turnbull attack, Mandelson's musings about the disadvantages of a "coronation", the "revelations" about pensions, the talking up of Miliband, etc) Brown directs a barely-coded sneer in Blair's direction. Coinciding with the launch of his book on "Courage" (Yuck!) he says : "I think we're moving away from this period when celebrity matters, when people are famous for being famous". He says he has faith in the "essential decency" of the British people who, he thinks, "want to talk about big and important issues in a way that does justice to them" (Yeah, sure). But that is exactly how Brown should play it: presenting himself as a "serious", "substantial" figure, who is uninterested in trivia and celebrity. It does several things. First, it plays to his strengths; in a way that earlier attempts to make him more "touchy-feely" plainly did not. Second, it distances him from the Blair style; it is hard not to see his remarks as a rebuke to Blair with his pathetic infatuation for money and celebrity, with which public opinion may well be becoming rather tired. Third, it is just the right note to strike against Cameron, who can be portrayed as a over-privileged policy-lite bantomweight obsessed with image but lacking substance. I am not arguing that Brown does not need to be media-savvy, but that he and his team should use all their media-savvy skills to project just this image: a bit dour, not a natural media star, but serious, solid, hardworking, competent, experienced, and informed by simple but decent values (Which Brown describes as follows: "...every child should have the best start in life..everybody should have the best chance of a job...nobody should be brought up suffering in poverty...these are not the beliefs of the past. I would call them the beliefs that you associate with civilisation and dignity". A bit worthy, perhaps, but absolutely Labour). Brown the enthusiast for PFI and "flexible labour markets" is a bit too right-wing for Politaholic's taste, but at least he sounds like a Labour leader; Blair always sounded as if he had just arrived from the planet Zog.

3 Comments:

Anonymous NewsElephant said...

Political analysts seem to be underestimating the strength of Brown's position.

The two main issues that are sapping support for Labour are Iraq and spin. If Brown pulls out of Iraq and makes spin history by sticking to his serious, solid, hardworking, competent, experienced persona, then those issues are effectively neutralised and remain associated with Blair, in the same way that the Poll Tax was associated with Thatcher.

I wouldn't be too surprised if he drops expensive, unpopular policies such as ID Cards and concentrates on keeping the economy ticking over well enough for him to get some tax cuts in before the next election.

Cameron must hope that post-Blair Brown will suffer the same fate as post-Wilson Callaghan, but the Tories must surely worry that post-Blair Cameron will suffer the same fate as post-Thatcher Kinnock.

7:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

One thing I can't understand about Brown is the way he's constantly described by commentators and others as "an unknown quantity."

This is patently absurd, he would be just about the most qualified person to become Prime Minister in half a century (admittedly, the last PM with similar experience was Eden, but still). He can't escape his record in office (as the recent 10-year-old pensions row proves) so he's going to have to play up to it, and emphasise his experience.

One thing that might help him get his message across would be a leadership contest. One report suggests McDonnell is just five names short of getting enough to enter such a contest. Brown would surely love to become PM on the back of not only a crushing victory, but also a crushing victory over the Old Left of the party. It would allow him time and space to articulate the kind of PM he wants to be (experienced, solid, etc), and also demonstrate to Middle England that he's not going to take Labour back to the old Socialist days. It'll be harder for him to do all that without a contest of some kind.

12:37 pm  
Anonymous NewsElephant said...

You never hear any commentator compare Brown to John Major, despite the similarities of their positions (taking over mid-term after 10 years of an enormously successful but now unpopular prime minister) ...and, of course, Major really was an unknown quantity (3 months as Foreign secretary and Chancellor for just one budget).

In April/May 1990, Labour were scoring over 50% compared to the Tories in the low 30s in opinion polls (ICM) and yet Major went on to win in 1992. Now it's Labour in the low 30s but the Tories struggle to score over 40%.

In 1990, inflation was over 9% and interest rates were as high as 15%! Unemployment was on the way up as the 90s recession bit. I could imagine Brown saying: you've never had it so good!

10:45 am  

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