Alex Massie

Gordon Brown Fail.

Text settings

Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour party conference this afternoon was, in its way, breathtaking. Breathtakingly shameless, mendacious, confused, contradictory, delusional, dishonest and irresponsible that is. It was also the speech of a Prime Minister resigned to defeat.

Elections are won in the centre, not on the extremes. But Gordon's speech was designed to appeal to the Labour base, not to Middle Britain. It was, then, designed to shore up existing support, not appeal to floating voters. It was for the left wing of the Labour party, not the Blairite voters who flocked to the party in 1997. Some of them left in 2001, still more stayed at home in 2005. On this evidence many of them will vote Conservative in 2010.

The Prime Minister takes the electorate for fools. But voters appreciate the appalling fiscal position the next government is going to inherit. They know that urgent action is required. But Brown pretended - as politicians are wont to do - that he could promise cakes for all and that everyone would still lose weight. Despite dozens of spending commitments - rhetorical commitments anyway - the deficit will be halvd in four years. The only thing missing was the promise of a free pony to every seven year old girl in Britain.

It was, also, inspired by a misguided analysis that seemed to have been written by Bob Shrum. Brown is for the "hard-working majority" not the "privileged few". The Tories, by contrast, are heartless toffs who want to put a "cap on aspiration" so that they and their gilded pals can loot the country.

But this too simply shows how politically tone deaf Gordon is. Cameron's weakest point is his past career in Public Relations, not his privileged upbringing.(Gordon's upbringing, incidentally, was, in the context of Kirkcaldy also privileged: son of the Manse and fast-tracked through an educational "hot house". But never mind...)

And, like all desperate politicians, he tried to wrap himself in the flag: Labour is the only properly patriotic party. Shameless and, in this instance, a leaf pilfered from the GOP playbook.

Indeed, this was a speech that might be best seen as a left-wing version of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Like Romney, Brown flip-flopped on a dozen policies he'd previously favoured leaving him in the curious position of, in effect, running against his own past. This, it must be said, is a tactic that rarely convinces.

There was, of course, the usual headline-grabbing nonsense: workhouses for single mothers and a National Family intervention Agency that, given how our bureacracy works, is a guaranteed disaster. But imagine the outcry if a Tory politician called for "Gulags for Slags" or "Wormwood Scrubs for Scrubbers"? Family breakdown is a real issue, but this was a gimmick designed for the sake of gimmickry, not any serious attempt to address a problem. Because addressing it would require a total rethink of tax and welfare policy and, consequently, demand another U-turn.

In other words, this was not in fact a serious speech by a serious politician in serious times. Quite the opposite in fact. It was yet another missed opportunity by a failed Prime Minister whose time is up. We know it and he must know it too. Given the chance to be straight with the electorate, Brown chose to be crooked and, worse still, absurd.

I didn't really think that Brown could fail to meet my exceedingly low expectations but, by god, he did.

If you missed the full horror, check out the Coffee House live-blog here and my live-blog* here.

*Many thanks to all those who took part and left their comments.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSociety