PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: 'OMNIUM CONSENSU CAPAX IMPERII NISI IMPERASSET'?
Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, probably the most successful Chancellor of the Exchequer since Lloyd George if not Gladstone, now First Lord of the Treasury, aka Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has it appears, after close to five months in office demonstrated once again the contemporary usefulness of Tacitus famous witticism concerning the Emperor Galba, on others of his ilk in history. Seemingly extremely well-equipped by his over ten years at the head of the most powerful Treasury Department in British history, to be Prime Minister, Brown and his government has in the past eight weeks appeared to begin to self-destruct before the public's very eyes. From the debacle over the run on the Northern Rock Bank, to the U-turn over calling a general election, to the more recent scandals over the Customs and Revenue Department losing 25 million personal identifications of UK citizens, and a bungled privatization of a defence contractor. Like a whirlwind, the round of mis-judgments, mistakes in policies and sheer dithering, appears to have come out of nowhere. The seemingly omnipotent 'Iron Chancellor', of the Blair years, has proven in his brief time as Prime Minister, to be out of his depth. Much more focused on 'reacting', rather than giving the appearance to either Parliament or the country of being able to impress himself and his policies on the nation. The front bench of the self-proclaimed, 'Ministry of All Talents', has proven to be a damp squib, if not a complete joke. With the Iron Chancellor, being succeeded by the papier-mache Chancellor (Alistair Darling), as being the most illustrative instance of the worthlessness of the current Cabinet.
As one who did a doctoral dissertation on British Diplomacy in the early to mid-1950's, travails of Gordon Brown bears more than a vague resemblance to those of Sir Anthony Eden during his premiership. It was Eden, who Randolph Churchill pilloried in his biographical study ('The Rise and Fall of Sir Anthony Eden', 1959) by affixing him with Tacitus' witticism. The long awaited premiership, so often postponed by his predecessor, seemingly mastery of one particular subject-matter to the exclusion of anything else in politics & the cabinet (in Eden's case foreign affairs, in Brown's of course, economics). The early honeymoon, followed by a series of crises and attacks in the press for failing to do with it. The tendency to micro-manage both the government and the Cabinet. The installation as his successor at his previous Cabinet position with a successor so maladroit as to give the appearance that only eunuchs will do (Selwnyn Lloyd for Eden and Darling for Brown). As we all know the end-result for Eden was early resignation after the debacle of the Suez Crisis. In the case of Brown, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any early ouster by either events or his party. The more likely result is that the 'drip, drip, drip' of criticism will eventually result in his losing both credibility with the public and parliament. Eventually both will kick Brown out like a ripe abscess. The end-result as it relates to future British foreign policy is that with a politically disabled Brown in Number Ten, we are in for another dose of 'unheroic unction' (to quote Eden) `a la the John Major premiership as it related to the Balkans Wars of the early 1990's. For an example of the current temper of political commentary on Brown to be found in the British press, please find attached a column by the Daily Telegraph's Simon Heffer. By all means read and enjoy.
Gordon Brown is in a hell of a mess now,
By Simon Heffer
"Some have been unable to resist the temptation, after the recent disasters for the Labour Party, to make comparisons with Black Wednesday, and the beginning of the end of the Major government. Those of us who stood by the grave of that administration - and, indeed, helped to dig it - know this is not entirely so. Then, dishonesty led on to incompetence. Now, incompetence - proved by the atrocity that was the handling of Northern Rock and compounded by the loss of 25 million personal financial records - has led on to dishonesty. One almost feels sorry for Gordon Brown. Enoch was right to say all political careers end in failure, but Mr Brown's career as Prime Minister seems to have begun in it.
One only had to watch his press conference yesterday to see in the raw the flaws in his character that caused so many to doubt his suitability as prime minister, irrespective of his policies. Confronted with the accusation that his deputy, Harriet Harman, had broken electoral law, he did one of the finest impersonations of Pontius Pilate seen for years.
Having revealed that Labour's rogue donor, David Abrahams, had offered his own campaign money, he revealed it had not been accepted because Mr Abrahams was unknown to him, and then denied knowledge of any other detail. This was a man whose party general secretary, Peter Watt, had just resigned after admitting wrongdoing, and whose deputy was already smelling of toast, and it was, as usual, nothing to do with him.
advertisementThe press conference, and what passes for the Prime Minister's handling of the funding scandal, were typical of the lack of leadership and absence of decisiveness with which Mr Brown now conducts business. These faults have become his hallmark. All the weakness displayed yesterday has been seen coming on several occasions over the past few weeks, ever since Mr Brown bottled out of the election he could have won - the only election he was ever likely to win, it may now turn out.
Take his behaviour last week. We shouldn't care, for example, if the unlikely claim that the records of 25 million people going walkies was down to "a junior official" is actually true. We shouldn't care if the head of HM Revenue and Customs fell on his sword without demur. We, the people, elect ministers to take the ultimate responsibility. When an error of this magnitude occurs, the only appropriate action is for the minister responsible to resign - not so much for his own sake, or to gratify blood-lust, as to encourage the others. It is a mark of the cowardice and self-interest of this administration, and a downright disgrace, that Alistair Darling is still in office.
That, though, was - so far - only metaphorically criminal. Now we have Labour accepting huge sums from people who turn out to be not donors but the proxies of donors. I suppose it is funny that Labour passed, in a peculiarly self-righteous and grandstanding fashion, the very law broken by this deception: but the Brown Terror has a knack of preventing us from finding much about it amusing. Even I, though, had to laugh on hearing the Chairman (as she does not call herself) of the party's National Executive Committee, Dianne Hayter, say with what I imagine was a straight face that the NEC had run "thorough and complete checks" into the donors. So when a man on a council estate writes it a cheque for £80,000, Labour does not even blink as it utters "comme toujours".
Be in no doubt: something very dirty has gone on here, and the resignation of Mr Watt will not be the end of it. Mr Watt said he knew what was going on but did not know the rules were being broken: yet he was Labour's ex-head of compliance, for heaven's sake. So is this incompetence or dishonesty? It would take a lifetime in the CID to work that one out, but I hope someone will try.
Some of us remember not merely the submersion of the Major government under its tide of lies, peculation, rent-boys and mistresses, but also the Poulson affair of the early 1970s. That, too, like this present funding crisis and the Northern Rock debacle, had its roots in the North East, which since then has become the heartland of Labour's client state. Poulson and his comrade-in-arms T Dan Smith bribed local councillors and officials to get lucrative building contracts. I am sure that this sort of thing has no bearing on the business interests of the real donor of £558,000 to the Labour Party, said to be David Abrahams, alias David Martin, aged 53/63? What are we to make of the decision by the Highways Agency at a time when the Transport Department was run by Mr Brown's blue-eyed boy, Douglas Alexander, to waive objections to a development scheme that stood to earn Mr Abrahams/Martin £60 million?
It might seem that Labour has netted a one per cent rake-off of Mr Abrahams'/Martin's earnings on this scheme. I am sure that this couldn't be true. But it smells to high heaven, does it not? What is Mr Abrahams'/Martin's link to Harriet Harman? Why did he feel he had to fund her successful deputy leadership campaign surreptitiously? Is it at all a coincidence that her husband, Jack Dromey, is the party's treasurer? Is her position compromised by this association with a man with interchangeable names, who uses others to shell out huge amounts of money on his behalf, who was deselected when he stood as a Labour candidate because he invented a wife and child, and who appears not even to have a fixed date of birth? Is that the sort of man Mr Brown wants funding Labour, or his deputy leader wants funding her? Is this the sleaze-free, whiter-than-white image that Labour smugly boasted would prevail once the wicked, venal Tories were ousted? Is that a pig I just saw flying past the window?
Incompetence is one thing. It was blitheringly stupid to use taxpayers' money to prop up Northern Rock - something that looks ever more like the rest of us having to pay to placate Labour's strong regional interest in the North East. It was scandalous to allow procedures to exist that resulted in the loss of the confidential details of 25 million people. But these are faults of experience and ability, not necessarily of character. What is happening now is very much a question of character, not least that of our chippy, surly, brittle, humourless and increasingly hunted looking Prime Minister.
Mr Brown has a habit of maintaining black is white, and regarding the rest of us as mad for thinking otherwise. He has tried this in justifying Northern Rock. He has tried it in his insistence that no minister need take responsibility for the HMRC debacle. He has been trying it for ages in denying the English are being done wrong by the grievous devolution settlement, and by banging on about his "Britishness" to legitimate himself as Prime Minister of England. He is in a hell of a mess now, and his party with him. The trouble for those who put him, by acclamation, in his job is this: you can change policies at a stroke, but changing personality is a much trickier, and more ruthless, exercise altogether".