by Kevin Meagher
So George Osborne is to officially nominate French finance minister, Chstistine Lagarde, to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the international monetary fund.
In the process, Gordon Brown’s potential candidacy for the role has been banjoed before it even (officially) began. His pitch well and truly queered.
The black spot was pushed across the table to him last month when Cameron said he “might not be the most appropriate person” for a role “work[ing] out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems”.
A bit rich, perhaps, coming from the former special adviser to Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday, but there you go.
Now it is suggested that David Cameron intends to champion Peter Mandelson for the soon to be vacated role as director general of the world trade organisation; suitable political cover, he no doubt thinks, for not backing Brown’s IMF bid.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a bit of tribal disdain for your political opponents. In fact, I would go further; it is impossible to hold ministerial office without doing some things badly and having at least part of your record that deserves to have rocks thrown at it.
It goes with the territory. But the extreme dislike of Gordon Brown by his Conservative opponents is completely out of proportion to his alleged “crimes” and, in the form of a David Cameron veto on Brown going to the IMF, looks a gift horse in the mouth in terms of extending Britain’s national interest.
That point was powerfully made on Monday by former world bank president, John Wolfensohn, praising Gordon Brown for possessing “the leadership skills, the vision and the determination to bring the world together”.
Lord Skidelsky, Keynes’ biographer, was more direct: “It is absolutely scandalous the British government is not putting him forward – in fact, it has done the reverse and made it clear that it would oppose him. He is incredibly well qualified. It seems to me very small-minded and petty”.
They are right. This is spiteful hack politics.
And, quite possibly, unnecessary.
As Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt have pointed out, Germany and France want a representative from a euro state in any event, given the IMF’s current role in supporting struggling eurozone members. Gordon Brown may have struggled against that headwind, with or without British backing.
But the issue of the prime minister’s disdainful treatment of his predecessor remains. You don’t have to come over all “maiden aunt” to deprecate Cameron for it; especially as Labour did not similarly malign Conservative figures when the boot was on the other foot.
John Major’s Chief Whip, Alistair Goodlad, was made high commissioner to Australia in 2000. Ex-Tory party chairman, Chris Patten, led a landmark review of policing in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Sebastian Coe, was allowed to lead London’s bid for the 2012 olympic games.
Indeed, when it comes to ecumenism, let us not forget that it was Gordon Brown who agreed that Margaret Thatcher would be granted a £3 million state funeral upon her death – the first prime minister to receive the posthumous honour since Churchill in 1965.
But what really bugs Brown’s critics, of course, is that he represents the social democratic heart of Labour’s period in office. He is the corporeal representation of the social spending that the Tories so disdain. Brown was the engine room; the propulsion both intellectual and organisational that kept Labour in power for 13 years.
Sure, Tony Blair had the voter appeal; but it was Brown who provided the purpose, the heft; the “big clunking fist” in Blair’s velvet glove.
That is what lies at the heart of this snide point-scoring: payback time. But no amount of Brown’s cold-shouldering of George Osborne or talking down to Nick Clegg warrants this venal act of political sabotage; it is simply about knifing a hated political enemy.
But hating Brown – and that is not too strong a term for the behaviour of his opponents – on either personal or ideological grounds is a corrosive habit to get into.
All politicians, even those we dislike, are capable of objective achievements which it is churlish not to acknowledge. Even Gordon Brown’s biggest enemy ought to concede that his role in leading the response to the international financial crisis was critical; he was the right man in the right place at the right time.
He has earned his place at the top table of international politics and finance. In the words of former US federal reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, Brown is “without peer amongst the world’s economic policymakers”.
Like any other senior politician, he is no angel. Thirteen years at the very top of British politics is a lot of record to account for. But Gordon Brown does not deserve the level of juvenile disrespect that comes from his opponents on the right.
They should remember that politics is a great leveller. What goes around comes around. Cameron, Clegg and Osborne have potentially decades left in public life (Strauss-Kahnesque scandals aside).
There will come a time when they are ex-ministers too. But if, one day, they covet a role suitable for their talents, strengthening Britain’s international hand in the process, then I would hope a Labour prime minister would have the good grace to support them.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor Labour Uncut.