Alex Massie

Gordon Brown Should Just Abandon Hope

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From Andrew Rawnsley's (must-read) column yesterday:

A member of the no contrition tendency in the cabinet says: "Gordon apologise? Bugger that. No way. People don't want to see him wringing his hands. They don't want him to get into this psycho-babble. They want him to get the job done."

Is this actually true? I mean, do people actually want Gordon to "get the job done"? I'm not convinced they do. Isn't it possible that the electorate is enjoying this? The sourness and vindictiveness of the public mood at present seems unlikely to be much impressed by anything the Prime Minister could propose, let alone achieve. You might expect Tory voters to be rooting for the government to fail, but I suspect that swing-voters also take a certain grim enjoyment from kicking the government when it's down. Voters can be a cruel, callous bunch. Just ask John Major. I rather think voters like not liking Gordon Brown. They'd be disappointed if he got the job done; that's not the role the public has assigned him.

Not for the first time, Brown's ministry resembles Major's. What good did it do Major to hold on until May 1997? Precious little. No wonder the idea of a snap election is back on the agenda. Well, why not? The idea must be to lose - and get rid of Gordon - now, rather than face certain death in 2010 when, with no recovery in sight, voters have had an extra year in which to stockpile and stoke their fury.

Rawnsley reports on how Labour might try to frame the argument:

"It is important for us to say that we didn't get it all right about financial regulation," says one member of the cabinet whose identity may surprise you. By confessing to their mistakes, they could then open up a fuller debate about how to control the City. The Tories would have to explain why, when anyone goes looking for the speeches they made advocating stricter regulation of the City, none is to be found. The focus would be less on Labour's past mistakes and more on who offers a better answer today.

This makes sense, at least on a theoretical level. But I doubt it can work in practise, even if it's a line of attack that has the merit of being less dishonest than most of these affairs. Nonetheless, I doubt it can work. When Britain was turfed out the ERM, dealing Major's government a blow from which it would never recover, nobody cared that Labour had been even more enthusiastic about British membership than the Tories. Indeed, the government had essentially followed Labour policy. But so what? There's no hiding place for the folks in charge and sins in opposition are much more easily forgiven than those committed in government.

Still, an early election seems unlikely. Like Mr Micawber, Mr Brown will trust that something will turn up and that this something will surprise us all. Fearless prediction: it won't.

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.

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