The Spectator

Reading between Gordon’s lines

Reading between Gordon's lines
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Gordon Brown's new book, Britain's Everyday Heroes (Mainstream, £10.99), is yet another important clue to the Prime Minister's political trajectory. In inspiration, it is part Cobbett's Rural Rides, part Eliot's homage to "unhistoric acts". In his portraits of 33 individuals engaged in various forms of service and community work, Gordon identifies those he regards as the "true celebrities" of our times, and hails "an age of engagement: with our culture and communities energised and improved by the choices and actions of individuals - people power." In such enterprise, he says, we can see - you guessed it - the "greatness of Britain" as well as the "timeless values of the good society". Political bromides? Not at all. This is Brown storming on to the terrain marked out by David Cameron in his "social responsibility" campaign. The crucial difference, made clear in this book, is that Brown does not buy the Tory theme of the "Broken Society", so well described in IDS's recent policy report: the PM sees instead the "willing commitment" of the British people, and declares the need to "celebrate" their achievement so often that I quickly lost count. What's he up to? He's trying to portray the Tories as bleak Victorian pessimists, I think, and himself as a bright visionary, a tribune of the army of volunteers and activists described in this book. The question is: which portrait of modern Britain will chime with the public. Broken, or vibrant with civic activity? What do Coffee Housers think?