Gordon the tank and the process

Andrew Rawnsley offers an uncompromising picture of Gordon Brown. Rawnsley argues that Brown will have to change his bruiser approach to politics if he is to succeed in the Prime Ministerial role he so covets but what of our own process?

(You may need to use the refresh button to get the link to work). He argues that Brown is:

“…an untrendy figure in one crucial respect which is vital to understanding what he would be like as a Prime Minister. Politics, for him, is still an ideological business. With the more fluid personalities of David Cameron and Tony Blair, you get light and shade. Gordon Brown is a man of black and white. As a debater, he claims every point and concedes none. As a colleague, you are either 1,000 per cent his ally or you are his unforgivable enemy. As an enemy, he will not rest until you have been pounded into dust. As a strategist, he works on the basis that politics is about dividing lines.”

The public seem well aware of Brown’s style but this has not dented his popularity so far:

“When asked to think of politicians as vehicles, focus groups describe him as a tank”

Brown is largely an unknown quantity in terms of Ulster politics and our interminable process. The Treasury, his fiefdom, has maintained its usual sceptical eye over packages for Northern Ireland as anywhere else nor has Brown particularly attempted to associate himself with the process. Although Brown’s proposals for further constitutional reform and celebrating Britishness should be opportunities for Unionism.

Has Brown formed his opinions about here? Who will/does he view as black and white? The process has been overseen by politicians with a reputation for conciliatory and deal-making approaches to politics (Blair, Ahern, Major, Reynolds), is a “tank” required to bring the process to a conclusion?

  • esmereldavillalobos

    The depressing thing about all this is while we have, in American parlance a “lame-duck” Prime Minister, the country drifts. Blair can barely get any agenda through parliament without the help of the grinning benches opposite who delight in rubbing his nose in it at long last. What direction are we heading in? No-one knows becasuse as FD points out we know GB’s style but what is the substance?

    Blair may not want his legacy to be Iraq but events have overtaken him and he has not long enough left to sort it out. No-one is going to remember Bank of England independance, school reform, NHS investment, a “peace process” (I’m sure FD will have another term for it 😉 and a solid economy – they WILL remember a war against a country that didn’t attack us with no exit strategy. Some legacy.

    Brown on Northern Ireland – I suspect the status quo will be maintained. A blunderbuss has never worked before (Wilson, Heath, Thatcher) and won’t work again. NI people instinctively react badly to threats so the softly softly approach should continue I think. Legacy? I suspect losing an election in 2013 if Cameron gets the tories act together. In the meantime? Who knows – that is the problem with Brown.

  • sl

    Any views on when Blair will stand down?

  • esmereldavillalobos

    For the above reasons re agenda, he will be forced to quit in the next 12 months.

  • slug

    “No-one is going to remember Bank of England independance, school reform, NHS investment, a “peace process” (I’m sure FD will have another term for it 😉 and a solid economy”

    Worse for Mr Blair is that three of those (1st, 3rd, and 5th) are really Mr Brown’s legacy. Blair has 2 and 4, neither of which are enough to make him a great PM.

  • Rory

    Is anyone really surprised by any new exposure of the “Mutt ‘n’ Jeff” nature of New Labour?

    We already have in this great UK democracy plenty of choice. We have the Conservative Party which represents the interests of the capitalist class. We have the Labour Party which represents the interests of the, er, capitalist classes. Fortunately we also have a new, thrusting, dynamic party, the Liberal Democrat Party which represents the interests of…. the capitalist class. For who would want to be a party pooper?

    The Labour Party are now in government= but within that government there are two factions… one which nakedly represents the interests of the capitalist class and one which is a little bit shy on the naturist front, but with encouragement, empowerment and growing confidence, may well shed their clothes, if not their skins.

    Goddamnit, I do so love democracy, General, Don’t you?

  • Comrade Stalin

    We have the Labour Party which represents the interests of the, er, capitalist classes.

    Rory, haven’t you noticed – the Berlin Wall has fallen and the USSR is no more. Everyone is a capitalist.

  • Rory

    Apart from those, the great majority, who have no ownership or control over the means of production, who have nothing to trade but the power of their labour, (including now the professional classes of doctors, dentists, accountants, teachers, lawyers etc.) we are all of course now capitalists.

    In much the same way all US citizens, including Sioux, Navajo, native Texan or native Californian and descendant of former African slave share the full benefice of that great land of plenty.

    I was going to be one meself, but I couldn’t afford the busfare to the estate agents to buy me pile.

  • Mick Fealty


    You picked the cherry of all the political journalism I’ve read this weekend. Hard to know what to make of it re NI. My impression (without having any particular inside track) is that Brown will do nothing rash on NI. If anything Blair may not have closed the deal, but he has made NI realatively politically ‘safe’ for Brown.

    Full steam ahead then. Either re-jigged Assembly or plan B – ie no Assembly and the new beefed up councils to take on much of their duties (Hain has started on that process already). But as Rawnsley hints towards the end of the piece, we really don’t know:

    He does not engage opponents. He sets out to obliterate them. One of the many Tories who have shadowed Brown describes him as a ‘uniquely intimidating’ presence at the dispatch box, especially when ‘he fixes you with that baleful eye’.

    The capacity to overawe opponents is a great asset. What worries away even at some of his admirers is whether Prime Minister Brown would leave the voters feeling bullied as well. When asked to think of politicians as vehicles, focus groups describe him as a tank.

    There have been recent attempts to reinvent him as a slightly softer figure, but it takes more than a change of tie colour from red to pastel pink. The half-heartedness of those efforts reveals the divisions within Project Gordon about how to present him, and great reluctance on his part to try to compete in the touchy-feely zone of politics. His view is that substance should triumph over shallow showmanship.

    And yet he cannot entirely ignore the demands for it. As Prime Minister, he would be contending not so much with David Cameron as with the ghost of Tony Blair. He has set an expectation that a Prime Minister should be brilliant at catching and shaping the public mood in a crisis. It is hugely to the credit of Gordon Brown that there has not been a single major economic calamity during his long reign at the Treasury. But it also means that we have little idea what he would be like in a crisis.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I was going to be one meself, but I couldn’t afford the busfare to the estate agents to buy me pile.

    You sound like one of those mad student People’s Democracy style trotskyists who graduates and becomes a barrister with a big house and a flashy BMW. Socialist rhetoric is merely a tool used by certain people to get power.

  • Harry Flashman

    One teeny little point being overlooked in all this discussion about Brown being the next PM is that it is by no means a done deal.

    Everyone just assumes that the Labour Parliamentary Party will simply rubber stamp the accession of Gordon, I am not quite so sure.

    Things have moved on a bit in the Labour Party since 1994 when a desperate party basically voted by acclamation the media’s choice for them for leader. Many in Labour are so sickened by Tony and his “New” Labour that they might just return to their curmudgeonly roots and decide to think for themselves and choose a leader who hasn’t already been pre-packeged by the pundits. There are one or two on the Labour front bench who are asking themselves “Well, who says it has to be Gordon?”

    On a further point I’m not sure GB would go down so well with the voters. Quite apart from his rather untelegenic appearance is his Scottishness (yes I know Tony was a Jock too, but he did a good impersonation of an Englishman). Times have changed, the Scots have their own parliament now, the ordinary voter in middle England, the key constituency, might resent electing as Prime Minister a man who can boss them about but whose own constituents are free to do as they choose.

  • esmereldavillalobos


    If not Gordon, who? There doesn’t appear to be a realistic alternative.

    Oh and who does anyone think he might trust the exchequer to?

  • PHIL


    The key difference between Blair and Brown’s Scottishness is that Blair is accountable to the English electorate, Brown isn’t. That is why Brown is unacceptable to the English people and why he would be a lame duck PM with no mandate to govern England on matters that are devolved to his constituent’s parlaiment in Edinburgh.


  • fair_deal


    “who does anyone think he might trust the exchequer to?”

    Ed Balls – provided he can find a new constituency as his is disappearing.


    ““Well, who says it has to be Gordon?”

    People like Tony Blair, Charles Clarke, Peter Hain etc

    Polls presently indicate Brown is a popular choice even beating the shiny and new David Cameron.

    Brown’s positioning on Britishness should counteract the Scottish syndrome somewhat. The Tories playing the Scottish card would be a mistake as it will be used as evidence of the Little Englander syndrome, a portrayal that has hurt them previously.

    Brown is to New Labour what Blair was to the Tories, ie the harder edges took off. So it should be enough to quell the unease in Party ranks. Brown will also give them a few policy changes hopefully foolishness like ID cards.

    On the bigger picture it might prove to have been a mistake for the Tories to choose Cameron. Picking the media’s choice for leader may have worked for Labour but will it work for them? Brown can be viewed as the anti-Tony brand. Cameron is the wannabe-Tony. Meanwhile the electorate seems peeved off with the thought of Tony. Brown’s dourness may also make Cameron look that little bit too smooth and smarmy, a young Tory Bob Monkhouse with poorer jokes.

    A Brown Davis battle may have been better for politics, they both seem to be more conviction politicians and it would have made for a more interesting political battleground than a battle of focus group results.

  • PHIL

    Fair Deal,

    You are missing the point about Brown’s Scottishness. I and most English people would not have had a problem with him becoming PM before his country got home rule. It is not Brown’s accent that is the problem, it is his constituancy.


  • Stephen Copeland


    Your position is constitutionally and politically wrong. Home rule (or devolution) does not equate independence – on the contrary, the devolved areas are still 100% part of the UK, and thus the fact of devolution does not in any way reduce GB’s ‘right’ to be PM of the UK. There are still wide areas of un-devolved (reserved) responsibility – are you saying that a Scot cannot hold responsibility for them, because Scotland has devolved responsibility for other areas?

    Your position appears to be one of logical support for complete Scottish independence. If only an English(wo)man (or someone at least representing an English constituency) can ever again be PM, then the only fair solution for Scots (reduced to second-class Britons) is complete self-rule, i.e. independence.

  • Scotsman

    Phil could just be arguing for federalism, but as there is no desire for English regional government, the federation would have 85% of its population in one chamber, and 155 in the other 3.

    Labour still holds a majority of English seats anyway.

    Where was Phil when the Tories were imposing their dogma on the Scots?

    Of course, both parties impose their policies on NI but it doesn’t seem to be in the interests of local politicians to do much about this at the moment:>

  • PHIL


    Constitutionally there is no reason why Brown shouldn’t be PM but morally there is a problem. You state that there are many reserved matters for which the UK government has responsibility, but in Scotland’s case it is about 20-25%. How can a Prime Minister be responsible for legislation that only 20-25% of which will affect his own constituents?

    Your second point about Scottish independance I couldn’t agree more with you, it is the only way to acheive a fair settlement. Devolution is an unfair halfway house that does nobody any favours, not least the man who sees it as his destiny to be PM of the UK, I only hope that English independance swiftly follows.


  • Stephen Copeland


    … I only hope that English independance swiftly follows.

    I agree. Who gets to keep the children, though? Especially the one who will never grow up?

  • PHIL


    I agree, federalism is probably unworkable because of the sheer size of England compared to the rest of the UK, but I wouldn’t rule it out completely as it works elsewhere (USA, Germany, Canada, Australia for example) it wouldn’t be my prefered choice though. Regional devolution is a non-starter as that was roundly rejected in the “North-East” at a referendum in 2004 by the people that the government thought would be most supportive of it (hasn’t stopped them having un-elected regional quango’s though, but that’s another matter entirely).

    As for Labour holding the majority of English seats, you are right. What Labour didn’t get was a majority of the popular vote in England, the Conservatives did by a small margin, but let’s face it there is no real difference between the two now anyway!

    “Where was Phil when the Tories were imposing their dogma on the Scots?”

    I assume that you’re talking late 80’s here, poll tax and all that, that would have been about the time that I was staying with my late aunt in Broomhouse, Edinburgh!


  • Jo

    Stephen: 12-17, LOL!

    The only question for GB is when, not if. There is absolutely no groundswell in favour of any other candidate, all such focus could have been on the late Robin Cook, sadly no longer with us.

    The GB legion would be quick to stamp on Miliband both now and for the foreseeable future.

    I think that 2008-2009 will be an interesting time, though. GB will have to handle Iraq and the outworking of the local political process here – on both his views are shrouded in mystery.

    Once awa’ from TB’s shadow, who knows what/who could emerge from Labour ranks?

    I would not bet against Hilary Benn.

  • PHIL


    “I agree. Who gets to keep the children, though? Especially the one who will never grow up?”

    We don’t thanks! Maybe it should become the 51st state of the US of A, they just love getting involved in basket cases after all!


  • Rory

    Damn, Comrade Stalin, you caught me out driving the flashy BMW into the driveway of the big house. For God’s sake don’t let on to the oul’ ex or she’ll be wanting the divorce settlement revisited.