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GORDON BROWN........WELCOME TO EDEN

14-02-2008

Charismatic leader steps down to be replaced by his long standing deputy who looks to have all the necessary qualifications - but somehow it doesn't work out. Laurence Inman offers Gordon Brown a few lessons from history.

It should all be going, if not right, then reasonably not too bad for Gordon Brown, but in some subtle way it isn’t.

Tone was the showy one, like the slick, smiley, smarmy bloke at school who got all the best girls because he played in a band and had the gift of the gab.

But he was impulsive and made terrible mistakes and in the end the boyish smirk started to wear very thin. Gordon, on the other hand, is grave, stable, trustworthy and serious. The teachers could safely put him in charge of things, like being Senior Milk Monitor.

When Tone went (or was kicked out) I felt relieved. At last the real politician could start to put everything right. Never mind that annoying thing with his mouth; Mr Boring-but-Competent was in charge.

But it hasn’t worked out, has it ? The press have taken against him. All sorts of little daft mistakes have been made. Even the Tories’ catastrophes in some strange way reflect on the temper of the times in general, for which Gordon seems in a tenuous way partly responsible.

But it might just be the ‘Tail-End Charlie’ phenomenon.

The brash, colourful leader departs, to be replaced by the long-suffering successor, and even though the first bloke is thoroughly discredited, the second bloke can never seem to escape his shadow.

Older readers will remember that this is what happened after Gladstone went. Rosebery never really caught on with the voters. And Balfour, after Salisbury, despite his charm, experience and immense ability, was somehow never seen as the right man. Neville Chamberlain after Baldwin was a complete non-starter.

Alec Douglas-Home could never follow the shameless showman Macmillan, Callaghan was a poor second to Wilson and Major only survived so long after Thatcher because, when it came to it, not enough people could stomach the prospect of Kinnock being Prime Minister. (Be honest: can you really see it?)

But the sorriest example of the fag-end man was Anthony Eden.

He was a faithful supporter of Churchill for twenty years or more. He served in the War Cabinet. When the Old Man came back as PM in 1951 (mainly because people were fed up to the back teeth with austerity) Eden had every reason to expect that he would shortly take over the top job. Churchill virtually said as much; after all, he was 77.

But he kept putting it off. There was always one more summit he wanted to organize, in the belief that only he had the vision and savvy to save the world from nuclear destruction. Even after his nearly-fatal stroke in 1953 he kept going for another two years.

But finally Eden got the keys to Number 10. Immediately he called an election and was returned with an increased majority.

How could he have failed ? He was vastly experienced, talented, handsome, articulate and had a solid mandate from the electorate. But within eighteen months he had conspired with France and Israel to embark on an invasion of Egypt, using as a cover-up a ‘plan’ which a six-year-old could have seen through, and alienated our biggest ally, the US.

It was a unique disaster, one we’re still living down. He was ousted three months later.

True, he was ill after a botched operation and on some pretty powerful drugs, but there was also a sense in which, after so long waiting in the wings, he wanted to make a splash.

He wouldn’t be the last PM to become obsessed about his ‘legacy.’ In fact, all ministers of any rank want to sweep up what they think are the mistakes, hesitancies and neglected areas of their predecessors. That’s why ‘education’ has been in such a chaotic mess for the last forty years.

Gordon is finding it very difficult at the moment to come up with a brand, a Brown Identity, for this government. I hope I’m wrong, but I am beginning to get this terrible feeling that the dithering over calling an election last Autumn might turn out to have disastrous consequences.

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