Political Promise

Brown gave his party a gift after Blair sucked it dry

In Matthew Wheavil on May 16, 2010 at 9:29 pm

By Matthew Wheavil

In universities across the land students and lecturers will now begin hammering out Dissertations and Thesis’s on the now historic New Labour era (1997 – 2010) in British politics.

But the focus won’t be on policy or even political achievement. It will be on legacy, namely that of the two most prominent architects and leaders of the New Labour movement: Blair and Brown.

The reason for introducing this blog post in such a fashion is to make clear that no article could summarise the friendships, foes, battles, comparisons and contrasts between the Blair and Brown premierships.

Labour by nature tends to end up bitterly divided during their spells in Government. The last ‘Labour era’, or rather Wilson and Callaghan years, were characterized by disagreement – over Nuclear proliferation, Europe, the economy and even Scottish devolution.

That was a time primarily of policy division. This time, it is a clash of personality – Blair and Brown are chalk and cheese and have left a lingering tribal legacy in the party of Brownites and Blairites. So how will history judge their reigns?

There are difficulties in drawing parallels as Blair enjoyed a decade in power on the back of a very strong British economy, party popularity across the regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales thanks to devolution and for the most part, media adoration.

Brown on the other hand didn’t even make it 3 years – half a Prime Ministerial term to be precise. He inherited a country on the edge of the deepest recession in decades, a party bitterly divided and unpopular. It didn’t help either that the media turned on him in a very personal and undignified manner.

Thus far the conclusion is: Blair got it good and Brown got a raw deal. But it goes a lot deeper than that. One word in the previous paragraph stands out above the rest: “inherited.” The fact is Blair took a country swelling with hope and prosperity and left it crawling, gasping for breath – pieces for his unfortunate successor to pick up.

Already the public seems to have forgotten the Iraq Enquiry. Blair got off lightly here – but only because he charmed our socks off with reams of sophisticated and charismatic flourishes of commanding rhetoric.

Blair, the master of the 24-hour media circus that surrounded him, hypnotized the nation into believing his premiership, with the rather major exception of the Iraq dossier, was one of the most successful in British history.

Blair was and always will go down as a phenomenal politician. But in my language, that translates into ‘expert manipulator.’ Brown on the other hand was manipulated. Manipulated mostly by the media, making him look awkward and uncomfortable.

Even Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, who has always borne an untempered affection for Labour, whether old or new, called for Brown to be stripped of his role as Labour leader. She seemed to think that had Labour switched to Miliband two years ago, they might even have won this election.

Wrong. Only Brown could have taken Labour this far after the state Blair left it in. Only Brown could have survived the recession and clawed the nation out of it. Only Brown could have defied the media guns in the debates and came across as a man of substance. Only Brown could have survived calling a pensioner a bigot.

Only after hearing Brown’s final farewell speech and seeing the first genuine smile widen across his face, clutching the hands of his children and wife with unconditional love, did I release just what he’d done for party and country.

Brown will go down in history as a successful Chancellor and a heavily burdened Prime Minister who fought battles with himself, his past grudges, the media and the economy. But he will also go down as a man of dignity, substance and perseverance.

After all the criticism of Brown’s awkward handling of broadcast media, he fought the cameras in the debate, looking the most relaxed and composed of the three main party leaders. After all seemed lost post-bigot-gate, Brown didn’t give up – he did everything he could to fight the election.

He has taken a bullet for the party (Blair’s bullet?) and given them a gift. A stronger opposition than they could have hoped for given their unpopularity over the past few years, a chance to rejuvenate under a new leader and even putting the Liberal Democrats in bed with the Conservatives.

All this, along with the respect and dignity Brown received for his final heartfelt and endearing speech, might just hand Labour a golden ticket at the next election.

The Blair and Brown era is over but it is only thanks to the latter that it could soon be forgotten. They’d just better get their leadership choices right, unlike the Tories post-Major.

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