Forget the black arts, McBride exposes Brown’s wasted potential

by Kevin Meagher

Reading extracts from the intermittent release of Damian McBride’s scabrous and painfully frank account of life at the heart of the Brown political machine, there is an obvious and dispiriting parallel that comes to mind. James Gordon Brown seems to be the closest thing British politics has to Richard Milhous Nixon.

The comparison has been made before, whether it’s at the literal end of the scale – both were brooding and insular – or in what they did in office. The Nixonian paranoia and skulduggery of Brown’s operation that McBride lays bare is depressing to read; and all the more so because it didn’t have to be like this.

If you measure Gordon Brown’s record between 1997 and 2007, he emerges as one of the greatest social democrats of the post-war era, up there with Bevan and Crosland in leaving an enduring mark on reducing inequality.

Yet when you stretch the review period by just three years to include his premiership, Brown, like Nixon, is reduced to a figure despised, discredited and disgraced – or so his political enemies (including those within Labour’s ranks) constantly tell us.

This is certainly hyperbolic; the Brown government was not that bad; and, sure, he was no angel when he was at the Treasury either, running a perennial campaign to usurp Blair, but the real waste is that this didn’t all end when he realised his life’s ambition by becoming prime minister.

Instead of enunciating a more enlightened, post-Blair form of social democracy, Brown wasted his golden opportunity by channelling his energies into his continued mania for shafting opponents, over-reacting to perceived slights, micro-controlling his political universe, gaming endless paranoid scenarios and worrying about resurgent Blairites (pale reds under the bed, so to speak). It’s no wonder Gordon was famous for working all hours of the day and night, all that angst does take time to work through.

The premiership of this hitherto brilliant man was reduced to a three-year hiatus, a stop-gap between Blairite and Cameroon pragmatic minimalism. The longest-serving chancellor in a century, the real prime minister in all but name for most of the New Labour period, was painfully exposed as unready and unsuited for the challenges of day-to-day decision-making. A feat almost guaranteed from the start by the paucity of new thinking he brought to the job.

Add to this that Brown was simply an unlucky PM – with everything from lost computer discs to live microphones – letting him down. Only in his response to the 2008 banking crisis did we get a glimpse of the best of Brown.

Like Nixon, Brown had it all in his hands and still managed to blow it. Like Nixon, his real achievements have been overshadowed by personal demons that brought out the worst in his approach to politics. Like Nixon, he had die-hard loyalists whose lack of perspective eventually helped destroy their master.

As Damian McBride’s unsparing pen reminds us this week.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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8 Responses to “Forget the black arts, McBride exposes Brown’s wasted potential”

  1. james says:

    Forget about the Brown/Blair skulduggery which is more about the viciousness in the Labour psyche `the means justifies the ends` there are still three basic questions:

    1. What was he doing running a 3% deficit before the bust?
    2. You can’t run social democracy on the cheap – ask a Swede! Labour used a social democratic deficit for ballot box receipts
    3. Inequality between those that could milk the system (or who happened to be locked out of the benefit system or were childless or lived within their means) GREW – as did inequality of wealth between rich and poor. NEXT!

  2. John p Reid says:

    The Nixon comparison is right, he wanted to do things so badly that he didnt believe that the public would want it, so he went to such extremes it was his undoing, the irony was like Nixon the public would have accepted what he was trying to do ,if only he’d been honest about it

  3. Keith says:

    I could not disagree more with these claims.

    To say that Brown was a social democrat is a bit like saying that Castro is a Thatcherite. Remember, this was the man that gave us PFI, and the private equity 10 % tax rate for billionairres, and removed the 10% tax rate for low earners which thankfully precipitated a backlash from many Labour MPs.

    But leaving aside these details, look at the legacy of Brown’s years at the treasury. We ended up with the gap between rich and poor wider than ever, social mobility worse than ever and a collapse in manufacturing investment and a complete reliance on the financial city of London thanks to Brown’s sucking up to the caxsino banking culture with light touch regulation. If the Tories had left us such a legacy the Left would have been screaming from the rooftop.

    Brown is now being talked about for his “dark arts” behaviour with his thuggish acolytes, but I doubt if history will judge his years as Chancellor very kindly either.

  4. bob says:

    Miliband today has started to attack the private sector pensions again, this from a man whose party’s so called chancellor taxed private pensions into worthlessness. Many people who have retired on private pensions have a diminishing return, the public sector pensions grow at a rate if inflation + 2% (NHS).

  5. Robert says:

    Keith it would have taken a few minutes to check PFI and sadly for you it was Thatcher that gave us PFI, and of course Blair was the leader of labour not Brown in those early years, the school building program and the NHS was all done with PFI.

    But sadly Thatcher was the first to use it and we all know how much New labour loved her.

  6. swatantra says:

    If Tony had stuck to Granita this animosity and messy divorce might not have taken place. SWe need a reappraisal of Tony’s contribution to Labour; some great things achieved but overall a big disappointment and wasted opportuniies; and winning 3 GE is not the be all and end all of power. Achieving socail and radical change is. You could do that in one term, like Attlees Govt.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Swantantra, it depends hat the Tories do after a one term labour government, look at the Labour 74-79 one the Tories got rid of mist of that straight away, also the day after the 2001 election Brown Watson the phone asking when Blair was going to resign.

    James your point 3 makes sense.

  8. uglyfatbloke says:

    Let’s see…Under Brown….

    As both Chancellor and as PM, the poorest people got a little bit poorer. Much as I hate to say it, that’s a worse record on social equality than MacMillan, Heath or even Thatcher, which is quite an achievement, but hardly one to be proud of.

    Lying became a professional attribute – just off the top of my head, he lied about the value (and cost) of trident, about the usefulness of the gold reserves which he sold off, the value of North Sea Oil, cannabis, his expenses, the damage he did to personal pensions….I expect most people could add something to that list.

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