Saturday, September 20, 2014

Brown comes out from the cold to do what he's good at


The rebirth of Gordon Brown is one of the more surprising, but pleasing outcomes of the Scottish Independence referendum. Brown was the one that the political and media establishment loved to hate during his years as Prime Minister. On the contrary his ten years as Chancellor were mostly lauded, at the time, by an often supinely admiring political class. Did he spend more than Britain could afford in those years? In retrospect yes, but remember that before the financial crisis the Conservatives promised to match Labour’s spending plans!

If Brown was a less good Chancellor, in retrospect, than he seemed at the time (not least his failure to curb the casino behaviour of the banks) he was arguably a better Prime Minister. His handling of the financial crisis, particularly the international dimension, was generally praised as was his chairmanship of the 2009 G20 summit.

Since his 2010 election defeat Brown has been rather a brooding figure. But unlike his predecessor he has not sought to enrich himself by cashing in on his ex-PM status. He has also remained a member of the House of Commons and assiduously looked after the interests of his constituents. But on the great affairs of State he has been mostly silent, except in his writing and the the occasional speech, often unreported. But when the Scottish referendum seemed to be going suddenly wrong for the “No” campaign he emerged from the shadows – and how!

The speeches Brown made over the last few weeks of the Referendum campaign were truly outstanding. Passionate, fluent, emotional and of course intellectually robust. I say “of course” because intellect has always been Gordon Brown’s greatest asset. He always “gets” an issue however complex - sadly he did not always “get” the political fallout from problems when he actually did what the highly developed logical left-hand side of his brain told him to do! In retrospect it is sad that the Left brain driven Brown and the Right brain driven Blair could not build on the powerful logic of the early years of their partnership. That Britain's two most outstanding and complementary modern politicians fell into an acrimonious war reflects badly on both of them.

But since 2010 Brown has had the moral high ground whilst Blair has become a figure of derision. This means that Blair could never return – a fantasy of some Blairites that took a while to go away. Brown on the other hand has returned – honourably and successfully. He also has his man in the Labour leader’s job and another as Shadow Chancellor. Whether they now seek to use Brown in some way we will see – but my guess is that it is in Scotland that his future may lie.

The next elections for the Scottish Parliament are in May 2016 but if Gordon Brown has ambitions in Holyrood he could perhaps become an MSP before then in a by-election. Clearly the outcome of the 2016 Scottish election will be heavily influenced by the aftershock from the Referendum vote and by the 2015 British General Election. Whether the Scottish National Party can reform itself and its platform when, as Alex Salmond admitted, a referendum could happen only ‘once in a generation’ remains to be seen. My guess is not. The SNP is a one trick pony and that pony has been shot and buried. This means that Scotland could revert to the Left v Right political character which once dominated it – and which is the norm in most jurisdictions around the world. SNP Votes ought to flow back to Labour and allow them to return to power in Scotland in 2016. Gordon Brown could help this happen and I rather suspect that he would like this. If he then became a “Father of the House” figure or something else we would have to wait and see! But First Minister of the Parliament in his homeland that he helped establish and in the context of a sound Union over which he once presided, and which he defended and even rescued, would be a nice coda to a remarkable political career.


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