Martin Bright

Didn’t He Do Well?

Didn't He Do Well?
Text settings

I have had some time to think about Gordon Brown's performance in Washington now and I would agree with an American liberal friend  I spoke to on the phone this evening that it was "not bad". This is someone who desperately wanted Obama to win and who, on balance, would probably not want a Tory government in Britain if he put his mind to it.

In essence, Brown's speech to Congress just doesn't matter that much: not to Obama, not to the American public, not to the British public, not to Brown's chances of winning the next election. It mattered to Brown, of course, as a devoted student of American history and politics.

I thought Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian captured it well: "By the end of the prime minister's historic address to both houses of Congress, however, no one could have been in any doubt: Gordon Brown really loves America. Passionately, lustily, sweatily. And for 36 minutes at least, Congress seemed to love him back."

And between the Blairite digs, so did Tom Baldwin in The Times. "When he finished, there was a faint feeling of an anti-climax. Not only was Mr Brown unable to light the rhetorical fires that blazed here when his predecessor spoke six years ago, it is that he also matters less than Mr Blair, who was needed by George Bush to validate the Iraq war. The Prime Minister now, by contrast, is not so much needed as plain needy."

This was a sketchwriters' moment, but the substance of the speech was important. The United States and Obama in particular, does not need our Prime Minister to tell them to lead the world. But the call for a global New Deal is timely and important. Forget for a moment the hand Brown played in all this and just what an evangelist he was for deregulation and the free market. Now he does seem to get it. The time has come (it came some time ago) for the reform of our international financial institutions. This has been said so often now that it almost seems that everyone was saying it all along.

But it was the optimism that really struck me. For instance this:  “For me this global recession is not to be measured just in statistics, or in graphs or in figures on a balance sheet. Instead, I see one individual with their own aspirations and increasingly their own apprehensions and then another, and then another. Each with their own stars to reach for. Each part of a family, each at the heart of a community now in need of help and hope.”

This marks an interesting shift in the tone of Brown's rhetoric towards a kind of communitarian individualism. This is a serious recognition of the depth of the crisis because this is the rhetoric of a national emergency. About time too.