Thursday, October 11, 2007

The trouble with King Gordon

I've been thinking that Gordon Brown's Scottishness is a problem - in a way that has nothing to do with the 'West Lothian Question'*. And before some nationalist accuses me of having the 'Scottish cultural cringe' allow me to qualify this: it has to do with him being Scottish Labour. This doesn't make him politically left, as his illiberalism, along with his apparent commitment to make our tax system even more regressive than it already is, demonstrate; it just makes him culturally Labour in a way Blair could never be. I'd argue that a number of his problems flow from this. Polly Toynbee, Jackie Ashley and the rest may love him for this but I don't think the electorate will.

For amongst the maladies of the political soul that commonly afflict the Scottish Labour beast are two that are potentially dangerous to the point of destruction for someone who aspires (although obviously not yet for bottle-boy) to win a General Election. These are: tribal partisanship and the assumption of something akin to the divine right of Kings - the working class serving as a secular proxy for God here.

I think most Scottish readers will recognise what I'm saying here. These two fuse together: demands for tribal loyalty are made on the assumption that only Labour serves the interests of the working class. Despite all the evidence that demonstrates that the Labour party do not, in fact, represent the interests of the working class, I really think the average Scottish Labour beast truly believes this because it has been repeated like a mantra for so long, passed down the generations, treated as an article of faith and has been woven into the collective psyche of the party.

So, for example, when a significant proportion of the real rather than imagined working class would rather have anyone but Labour running Scotland, even though a majority oppose independence, the Labour establishment are left adrift, confused, unable to form a decent response because they are still trying to work out what the hell went wrong.

This is the culture that Brown comes from and I think this forms part of the reason why he called-off the election and why he performed so badly against Cameron at the dispatch box. Despite knowing he would have won an election, his bottle still crashed. The reasons for this were obvious but what so few people have remarked upon is part of his nervousness would have been based on his inexperience with close elections. Where has he been confronted with this before personally? In Fife? Don't make me laugh. In a leadership contest? They had a coronation instead. It was no wonder Brown looked so pleased - it brought to the rest of the country the Scottish Labour way where the selectorate are the electorate in most places, most of the time.

When confronted with Cameron's jibes, Blair - who probably wouldn't have got himself in this situation in the first place - would have pretended to be enjoying himself and cracked a couple of jokes. Now, humour has a variety of social functions but one of them is simply to get others to like us. That Blair felt this need, I don't think many people doubt. Brown, on the other hand, can't do jokes. While being brought up in Kirkcaldy is enough to rob anyone of a sense of humour I don't think we can just blame his presbyterian background here: Brown gives the impression of someone who doesn't do jokes because he feels no need to ingratiate himself to others - and he feels no need to do this because he assumes he has inherited the right to rule. But he hasn't and if he doesn't get this soon, he's in serious trouble.

I'm not sure about his diagnosis, but I fear Anatole Kaletsky's prognosis might have been nearer the mark when he said this week's Autumn statement signals the beginning of the end of Gordon Brown's government. Political soothsaying is usually a mistake but there's just this vibe Brown gives off; an intangible, no doubt irrational, yet to me unmistakable feeling that the Force is not with this one.

*Why is it always raining in Harthill?

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