Tuesday 11 May 2010

Gordon Brown: Der Untergang

Fully Democratic voting systems deliver 36% of the power for 36% of the votes. This is boring for career politicans, but it’s also predictable. Most European politicians have to exercise skills to work together in the national interest more than once every 36 years plus remembrance day. As the only way to more power is to win more votes, they have to work harder with the public, and are generally more respected for it.

As it is in the UK, ninety years of cruising around in the belief that 36% of the vote entitles our political masters to 100% of the power has scarce prepared them for an hour such as this. Although they are being uncharacteristically soppy-stern and polite, they don’t seem to know how to talk with each other, rather than at each other. One optimistic hope is that they will learn, and this will be good for us all. The problem has been acknowledged since the 1860’s, and the kind of solution we need an open secret since the Royal Commission of 1908-10. They can hardly say they weren‘t warned.

And as the great Poker Game in the Sky grinds on around Westminster, first man down is Gordon Brown. How will historians see him?

Two interesting counterfactuals could be run:
  • What if John Smith had lived another ten years?

  • What if Brown had cut and run in 2007 to establish his legitimacy?

To Brown’s credit, probably, is his performance as a very British iron chancellor. His staunchest opponents will have to grudgingly admit he held his nose and did what probably had to be done about the credit crunch, and competently. His tax credits scheme was a way of redistributing income without raising income tax. He generated shedloads of cash to throw at education and health after thirty years of cuts. Yes, there’s a comparatively high peacetime public debt, but everyone’s got one of those coming out of recession, whilst economic historians will point out that as a proportion of GDP it’s actually lower than for most of the tweniteth century.

Brown was a Roundhead at Tony Blair’s Cavalier party. When Blair and Brown met at the Loch Fyne Fish Restaurant, or wherever, they carved up the next 13 years of the governance of Brtain between them. The process was probably much swifter and easier than what has been going on since last Thursday, and considerably more lasting.

However, as Blair swigged the champagne, Brown gagged on his Irn Bru. Therein lies tragedy.

Once Brown had gotten over the joy of playing with the real levers of power at Number 11, he probably hated the party, but hung on in there for the joy that lay ahead. How sad that it was so joyless when he got it. Nobody knows at what point Blair and/or Brown bricked up the corridor from Number 11 to Number 10, but his estrangement from his ertswhile dinner companion was disastrous. Brown, as a man of genuine rectitude, probably found it hard to believe what some of his less puritanical colleagues were up to.

But Brown was a genuine conviction politician. I remember his appearance at the Lambeth Conference. He obviously knew and owned the Millennium Development Goals without cue cards. He actually belived in that stuff.

Colleagues from all over the world, who believe the English to be clever but devious, were impressed by his obvious sincerity and passion. Not quite English. Scots, in fact.

Too passionate, not emotionally intelligent enough? How about what they are already calling Bigot-Gate? Other politicians suggest they would never call a voter anything as rude as “that woman.” When the great bin of emails is emptied out on the day of doom, and the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, I believe it will show other politicians have, in fact, called voters, and their colleagues, considerably ruder things and got away with it. But not with the microphone on.

And after all those complaints about Tony Blair’s addiction to spin, it’s ironic and sad, in some ways, that Brown’s “Lion in Winter” style was such a rat sandwich to Fleet Street, if not all the British public.

Blair danced for us and we tried to dance, with all the finesse Btits bring to that activity. Brown wept for us and we would not wail. He’s almost certainly done the decent thing politically. I think history will be kinder to him than the Sun. Let’s see who’s next.


Lesley said...

Completely agree with every word. Well said.

Rosalind said...

What concerns me this morning is the way all commentators seem to be assuming we were (attempting to)elect a president last Thursday, not a government. What is all this stuff about an "unelected" Prime Minister? Have they forgotten the Queen - and all the conventions that have grown up around this. I'm not particularly supporting monarchy - but the Prime Minister is the person (sic - not neccessarily even party leader) who can gather a voting majority in the House of
Commons. If the conversations and negotiations mean this is not one of the party leaders who went into the election, so be it. This is what our democracy is about when it is allowed to take its course without the personalised politics of the media. There is nothing wrong with negotiating to see which bits of manifestoes can be agreed on - this is what the eletorate actually voted for and might prefer to one party not needing to consult more widely. This, I guess, is the constitution that Gordon Brown is, rightly, working within, and why he would resign as he personally can't get this support, where another person might.
How where do the bankers fit into this? do they have a preference that will be shown in the markets? I wonder.....

Unknown said...

In so far as my friend Lindsay was always a better Missioner, so I think Grodon was always a better Chancellor. I see the Twitters are calling for him to be the next Chancellor once again - which seems an equitable result for all. I wonder how many of us were better at what we were than what we are now? I shall ponder that as I go an deliver an assembly. Huzzah

Ann said...

Thanks for helping those of us who don't live in the UK understand a bit more about politics there

Adrian said...

Bishop Alan - a very fine tribute to GB - and may he and his family find stimulation, fulfilment, and peace in whatever new role he finds to bring his exceptional abilities to.
One rather disconcerting feature of the events of the past 24 hrs which seems to be ignored is the proposal of the fixed term parliament. Whilst seeing much to commend this surely it is undemocratic not to propose to introduce it prospectively rather than, in effect, retrospectively! Having somehow wangled a coalition for which so much of the country did not vote are the rest of us to be denied the chance to have a say in the next government if that same co-alition falls apart before five years?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, all for comments. Interesting times. Having said nothing much about politics for 3 years, it's been a bit of a week for it.

Rosalind I caught a surprising note of presidential talk in some politicians on Tuesday, especially surprising from some of the Tories. I don't know how the bankers, and more importantly, international investors are taking this. I'd imagine they want stability above all, so as long as they feel the deal is secure they're unlikely to complain. I notice shares soared on Monday (against all predictions, and for other reasons).

Adrian, I'm not sure about fixed terms. I understand why people want them and it works in the States to have a fairly rigid schedule. I'm not sure it's that terrible a thing to work, as we have hitherto, pragmatically because, as you say, it gives voters a more responsive chance to react to events...

Archbeship Anthony said...

Hi Bishop Alan, I have the feeling that most English Anglican (& Roman Catholic) Bishops are in Munich this week. I have just posted a comment on Bishop Nick Baines (Croydon) blog as well. I get the impression that you did not think much of Tony Blair and had more time for Gordon Brown. I liked the way David Cameron made a tribute to Gordon, [More honest at home and shows more compassion abroad]. Did he really mean that? If he did and I will assume that he did, then that is Great. My talk on Living With Autism went really well, There is going to be one in the Evening at the end of June as loads of people wanted to attend but were unable. I send you a Flyer via Email as soon as Rev Claire sends it to me via Email. I will be writing a Blog article on it.

Many Thanks

Anthony Tull

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Anthony, thanks for your commment. Various Bishops in Munich, as it's the largest Christian gathering in Europe (think 30 of the largest Christian gathering in England going on at once, and that's the scale of the thing). I have counted +Nick, + Hereford, Bristol, Dorchester, and me. Will try and blog a bit, though it's very absorbing and overwhelming to be in the middle of it.

As to Blair and Brown they each had their finer points. They're only people like the rest of us, and the job of any historian is to begin with a sympathetic reading, but apply some critical distance to it — which isn't easy without some distance in time.

Really glad to know your presentation went well, will lk frward to your blog on it, and hope your next date is one I can manage.

Pam Smith said...

It's interesting how Hague last night claimed that fixed term parliaments were the only way to secure 'strong stable government' via the current coalition.

If this is in fact true then it indicates a level of fragility in the relationships underpinning the coalition which would indicate it is neither strong nor stable.

Finessing a 5 year term for themselves without a mandate is rather disingenuous coming 24 hours after repeated statements that a new leader of the Labour party would be 'unelected' in the role of Prime Minister. On that basis all the LibDem Cabinet ministers are equally 'unelected.'

I didn't support any kind of Labour led coalition because however unclear the result of the election was, it was clear that Labour had lost seats and the Tories had gained them.

Equally though, on that basis, it was also clear that the LibDems not only lost seats but also failed to increase their share of the vote by very much.

I have a feeling that insisting on a fixed term of 5 years for this government could turn round and bite them.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I think it is very tempting to think "the whole thing needs sorting out, so, at one fell swoop we will fix the whole constituton"

This is faintly true, perhaps, but I believe measured pragmatism applied to particulars is a better way to mend a complex situation, with careful monitoring.

I can only thnk fixed term parliaments is one fo the few things people who talk about fixing the constitution talk about that William Hague approves of! Well, bully, but that doesn't make it a good idea. I would like more information and time for more careful thought before signing up to it, myself.

In the meanwhile the hole in the bottom of the boat is the moral deficit incurred by a fundamentally semidemocratic voting system! A more representative parliament would perhaps be in a better position to assess the value (or not) of mfurther detailed measures such as this.

Steve Hayes said...

I rather like the way Gordon Brown rode off into the sunset making a tacit stand for "family values".

To remind the new lot what they need to be doing I suggest issuing bumper stickers reading "Cut government waste: scrap Trident".

Revsimmy said...

@Adrian: "Having somehow wangled a coalition for which so much of the country did not vote"

The problem with our system is that it is almost impossible to tell exactly what the country DID vote for. My guess is that most of us agreed less than 100% with the manifestos of the parties and candidates for which we voted. Many will have cast their vote to keep out another candidate or party they liked less - encouraged by some politicians and media with vested interests. Basically most vote for what they consider to be the "least worst" option on offer.

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