Alex Massie

Gordon Brown’s Just So Stories

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The Tories don't really want a November election, but after a successful conference - producing a bounce that has them level with Labour in one poll and three points behind in another - they're quite happy to see Gordon Brown hoist on his own petard. Brown's dance of the seven veils on the question of an election has damaged his authority. It's not a very Prime Ministerial carry-on. Matthew Parris is, I think, absolutely right in Saturday's Times:

Unless he calls and wins the general election for which he has whetted our appetites, the Prime Minister’s standing will suffer the sort of chronic damage that arises when small doubts are sown in the public imagination and left to germinate as new instances of old vices are noticed: such has been the effect of his behaviour over the past few weeks...

When I argued the attractions of an early contest on this page in July, I thought there was one thumping advantage it offered Mr Brown, one reason the electorate would respect for going early to the country: that Mr Brown has not been elected either as Prime Minister or Labour leader, and wanted his own democratic mandate. For this there would be huge voter sympathy both for his courage and for his honour as a democrat.

But by playing around with people’s expectations, looking calculating, unconfident and cheap, he has come close to forfeiting such sympathy, and if he backs away now has plainly forfeited it for a 2008 election. There is a way to regain respect; this is his moment; and he must do it now.

Otherwise there’s a good Old Norse word Mr Brown risks attracting, and it’s “sly”. In the undergrowth of human endeavour, slyness is thought to offer some low advantage; but it is not thought to equip a beast for the primacy of the jungle; and it is not admired. Some would call an autumn election foolhardy, but nobody now would call it sly. If he thinks he could win, however, narrowly, then Gordon Brown has a chance to renew his premiership, while putting to flight a most unpleasant suspicion. If he retreats, he will reinforce it.

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 articlePolitics