Iain Dale wounded me last night by implying that I spend too much time taking the piss out of him and seldom point out where we agree. Well, when it comes to things like Lords Reform, I tend to keep blog posts to a minimum on areas which are to do with my day job (partly out of a desire to compartmentalise and keep the two seperate, partly out of a desire not to sound like a one-trick pony), and when I do link to his site, it tends to be in response to some criticism or other he has made about the Lib Dems. But, in the interests of not being open to the accusation of mindless tribalism, I will just say that I agree that the recent Tory PEB outclasses its Labour equivalent by quite some margin.
It isn’t that there is anything particularly clever about the Tory one: with the right editing you could make just as successful PEB with almost any other politician. But while it is, of course, all presentation and style made to look like substance, it is done with a certain amount of panache.
There was no reason, for instance, for the Tories to tackle the BNP in the ad, but it was good positioning for them to do so. The way Cameron answered the question about the slave trade, was again quite a clever piece of positioning. This was all about presenting people with the image of David Cameron as a man who doesn’t necessarily tell you what you want him to say, to counter his caricature as a bandwagon jumper. It’s all rubbish of course, but it is quite effective rubbish.
The Labour ad, by contrast, is just rubbish. After 10 years, is a long stream of random questions good enough? We want answers: Labour can only say ‘we’re listening.’ It is appalling. The ‘reveal’ with Blair and Brown in the back of the cab is excrutiating. The scene with half the cabinet answering telephones lacked any credibility whatsoever.
To an extent, during this inter-regnum period, there isn’t very much Labour can say except that they’re listening. The problem is, they’ve been stuck in this holding pattern for three years now and it has grown beyond stale. The whole transition from Blair to Brown has, at every stage, been done on Blair’s terms and for all his harrumphing, Brown has simply let him.
This makes it all the more incredible that Brown is now launching a book called ‘Courage‘. A series of 8 portraits of people Brown finds inspiring, this is a progression from the nonsense we had earlier in the year with Brown making comparisons between himself and Gandhi. Every one of his eight ‘heroes’ unquestionably demonstrated courage in their lives; what is less clear is how Brown can claim to have emulated them.
What is striking from his list, is what easy choices they all are. Every single one of them is unimpeachable; secular saints for a modern age. A more charitable man than me would be pleased that a future leader of the country has taken the time to write a book about them. The cynic in me however is all too aware that he is, by extension, seeking to have some of their magic fairy dust rub off on him. So much for the ‘death of celebrity culture‘. I’ve seen dogs on heat rubbing up against men’s trouser legs make for more edifying spectacles. This isn’t courage: this is vicarious courage.
It would have been more interesting, and more revealing, if Brown had attempted to defend more controversial figures, people who weren’t necessarily saints but who shared his values. Gordon Brown on Lloyd George would have told us far more than hagiography about Aung San Suu Kyi (whose inclusion in any case begs the question: what has Gordon Brown, as one of the most powerful men in the world, done to advance her cause?). What about Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson? What about Thatcher? These must be people that Brown admires as he and the party of which he is a key architect have been so influenced by them. Sticking with people who lead blameless lives is as patronising to the public as Tony Blair chumming up with Noel Gallagher 10 years ago. Using them as political fig leaves in this way is somewhat offensive. Did anyone ask if they minded being co-opted in this way?
By publishing this book, now, Brown shows that he is anything but courageous. Having spent 13 years hiding in the shadow of Tony Blair, his first instinct is to reach out and hide behind eight more people. All this and we are still none the wiser about what will be in his first Queen’s Speech. Make no mistake: Labour is in deep trouble.