It is time for Gordon Brown to start contemplating leaving Downing Street. But he should only set a date well into the next decade. To get there he needs to consider now how he wants to be remembered. If he does not initiate discussions on his own legacy, he will suffer the fate of one of his two most recent predecessors, namely to be forced out prematurely or humiliated at the polls.
The idea of Mr Brown focusing on what he has achieved in Downing Street after less than 12 months in residence could be dismissed as another sign of the government’s lack of a political compass. Yet in planning his political exit so far in advance, Mr Brown will be seeding his revival and a return in his party’s fortunes prior to him going to the country in 2010.
To rebuild, Gordon Brown needs to recognise two incontrovertible facts: as a political ‘brand’ he is reaching the end of his shelf life; were he to win the next general election it is inconceivable that he would lead Labour into the following one. His goals are simple: extend his shelf life and prepare the ground for handing over to a younger leader after winning the next election. His means to do this are straightforward: show how the country can make good use of his experience and outline what he’ll help his team achieve.
Which is why talk of a legacy by Mr Brown’s few remaining friends in the media is not as potty as it seems (though it should bring a wry smile to Tony Blair given the scorn poured on his own attempts to cement his achievements). Mr Blair’s plans were settled at a meeting in Chequers in April 2006 where he agreed to ‘campaign himself out of office’.