David Blackburn

Brown is either fleet-footed or indecisive – he cannot be both

Brown is either fleet-footed or indecisive – he cannot be both
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Gordon Brown delivers the most important speech of his life this afternoon. Whether that speech can even check the march of the seemingly inevitable is doubtful, but his best chance is to express an alternative strain of personality from the severe and serious man the electorate plainly dislike.

Jim Naughtie and Neil Kinnock debated the alleged disparity between Gordon Brown in public and Gordon Brown in private. Kinnock repeated the line that, behind closed doors, Brown is a barrel of laughs, a near dilettante, and he sang the usual ‘if you could see him through my eyes’ chorus.

Kinnock claimed that many in Labour circles have urged Brown in private to become the “fleet-footed, highly articulate, wonderfully lucid and forceful politician” he once was, allegedly. According to Kinnock, Brown’s response is always that “the obligations of being Chancellor” required him to be deadly serious and that his “critics will claim the credit” if he changes.

Brown’s response reveals much about the man. The obligations of being Chancellor are to run the economy, not to pose as the Demon Headmaster. Despite the weight of the office, vivacious men such as Churchill, Clarke and Jenkins remained unstilted: in April 1929, the Spectator praised Churchill’s final budget speech both for its content and for its “mesmeric and witty delivery”. That Brown thought a character change was a pre-requisite implies a slightly absurd sense of self-importance – a trait that was evident when he played personality politics with Blair over tuition fees. But it is his fear of public criticism has emasculated his leadership; it chimes with the impression that Brown is a ditherer, ill at ease before the public.

Kinnock insisted that Brown’s dour persona was not an affectation. Brown’s insurmountable problem is that the public see that Kinnock is not being disingenuous.