I cringed throughout Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday. I retain, despite all, a soft spot for Gordon Brown. I know enough people who know him from Edinburgh, to be convinced that Brown basically means well. He is very wrong, but he means well. That is in sharp contrast to Blair, who is just a very talented charlatan devoid of any core belief other than his own self enrichment.
The Labour conference is attended by people whose standard of living depends upon their party having control of the state apparatus. Blair delivered on their personal craving for power and position, but self-evidently cared about none of the social justice issues which the party’s founders really did believe in, and which the conference members like to think they believe in, when they are maudlin drunk. So they followed Tony without loving him, and reserved warmer cheers for Gordon who they sensed was not actually a bad person.
Now, with no Blair to contrast with, Brown’s appeal of being well meaning but crap is less obvious. Watching him make a conference speech is like watching Eddie the Eagle plunge down a ski ramp – he is plucky but utterly unsuited. Indeed these are qualities which are fundamental to Grodon’s world view, as evidence by the execrable ghost written books he churns out, on themes like Courage and Britishness. It as though he is stuck in the Boy’s Own Paper. No wonder he believes he saved the world.
Yesterday’s speech was just excruciating to watch. The “Highlight” was a list of New Labour’s alleged achievements. He emphasised each by an extraordinary jerky hunch of the shoulders accompanied by a swivel of the head. It looked really weird – like a Gerry Anderson puppet, but without the warmth.
It was almost as weird as the previous day’s Mandelson performance. That was the most self-regarding speech I have ever heard, returning again and again to Mandelson himself as the reference point of success. His culminating point – “If I can come back, we can come back” deserves more analysis. What does it mean? “Because this government is so dodgy that a Minister twice sacked for corruption can come back a third time, then people will vote for us”?
Brown has promised us Magdalen homes for pregnant teens and an unspecified further crackdown on yobs. Here again Brown moved into superhero mode. “Whenever and wherever there is anti-social behaviour, we will be there to fight it.” That is plainly not true. It lacks any connection with reality. To seek to reduce anti-social behaviour is a good thing. Much more attention needs to be paid to the causes of the loss of family and community cohesion, and less to immediate recourse to the criminal legal system. But the idea that superheroes will descend “whenever and wherever” goes beyond the realm of legitimate rhetorical aspiration into the realm of delusion.
Brown’s empty rhetoric on banking bonuses could not conceal the fact that he intends to do nothing practical about them.
There is no real connection between yesterday’s speech and the announcement that the Sun will no longer support New Labour, other than being timed to endear Murdoch to the Tories.
New Labour should not be sorry to have lost Murdoch’s support. They should be deeply ashamed that they ever had it. At the last election, the Sun made plain that it was only endorsing New Labour because of Iraq and the “War on Terror” agenda.
Should New Labour ever recover electoral support, it will be after a period in opposition in which it must decide whether to try to outflank the Tories from the right and try to ally again with Murdoch, or try to remember something of what it was founded for.
How long will the “New Labour” brand be retained? It is associated with the liberalisation of banking regulaton and the disatrous collapse that followed, and with the horror of Bush foreign policy. If “New Labour” were a car, it would be eligible for Mandelson’s scrappage scheme.