Saturday, June 06, 2009

Why Gordon Brown Has Struggled.

I'm not going to say too much more about the Prime Minister (at the time of writing) Gordon Brown partly because I think it is getting a bit boring and partly because I'm beginning to feel sorry for him. I don't believe, as some people do, that he is mad but he is clearly under a great deal of stress and there is no obvious relief coming.

His 'Obama Beach' gaffe is vaguely reminiscent of former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin repeatedly referring to the allied invasion of Norway in a speech about D-Day a couple of years ago. The Brown/Martin comparison has often been made but it's worth going over: both men came to power as finance ministers in centre left governments after routing their Tory opposition, both men served in that role for a long time as their Prime Minister amassed multiple election victories, both men had leadership ambitions and ultimately derailed their leader and finally both men led their once invincible parties to defeat and the verge of electoral oblivion. Critically both of them were widely hailed in the media as being substantial figures who would bring renewal to their respective parties after a decade in power under formally popular PMs who had lost their lustre.

I think the reason that they disappointed their followers so much when they actually took office is because of "Overrated Finance Minister Syndrome". The world underwent a sustained period of growth from the early 1990s onwards because of the end of the Cold War, the opening of previously closed markets like China & India, the advent of the internet and just the economic cycle. This led people in various countries to attribute the economic success to the man lucky enough to be sitting in the hotseat when the boom was in full swing. Proclaiming a Chancellor as a political titan because he happens to be in office during an economic upswing is akin to declaring that a Defence Secretary is a genius because our army could invade Luxembourg.

As well as Brown and Martin, Brian Cowen in Ireland is an example of the same kind of thing as was Paul Keating of Australia in the 1990s (somewhat earlier than the others it must be said). When they actually took power and had to rely on their abilities to deal with multi faceted problems where their input actually mattered voters soon realised that they weren't particularly brilliant and in fact had been posted to the finance brief because they were fairly awkward figures who were not necessarily suited to roles that involve prolonged exposure to the public.

The question should not be why Gordon Brown is struggling as Prime Minister but why so many people were convinced he would do well given that he had never occupied a role which tested the qualities required to be Prime Minister.


Matthew said...

This is a good post. I stick to my Brian Clough/Peter Taylor view that Blair and Brown together worked well, and apart not, but your Finance Minister suggestion is not a bad one. Also, I'm not sure about Canada but in the UK there was a large constituency willing to believe the economy was doing very well, across the political spectrum. Ironically it might turn out that Brown really did save the economy, but it'll be far too late for him to benefit.

sobers said...

You've hit the nail right on the head - GB was lucky to become Chancellor just as the economy was starting to get going again after the early 90s recession. For political reasons he was forced to match Tory spending for 3 years. By then the economy was booming, and he could spend the proceeds, and more. Traditionally the UK economy would have hit the inflation buffers when a boom got out of hand, but Gordo got lucky again, with the China effect. Loads of cheap imported goods kept inflation down, and interest rates similarly.

Basically a trained monkey could have run the UK economy in the years 1997-2007. Its easy when the money rolls in regardless of how much you spend. Gordon was regarded as some sort economic genius, when in reality all his tinkering made no difference whatsoever. If anything probably made things worse, as was found out when the tripartite regulation system failed to spot the dangers of Northern Rock.

Its a dangerous thing when someone thinks they are responsible for success when they are not. It gives them a false reality. As we can see now with Gordo........

Ross said...

"Ironically it might turn out that Brown really did save the economy, but it'll be far too late for him to benefit.".

Yeah, I'm not convinced by the idea of spending even more money but if it does work then the beneficiary will be George Osborne who will then regard himself as an economic genius.

Ross said...

"Its a dangerous thing when someone thinks they are responsible for success when they are not. ".

Especially when everyone reinforces the hubris by agreeing with them.

Macheath said...

'Especially when everyone reinforces the hubris by agreeing with them'.(Ross)

I had resolved not to comment on the media car-crash that was Susan Boyle, but the analogy with Brown, although oft-repeated, is particularly relevant here.

Without any proper vocal training, she did not perceive her limitations - how could she? - and consequently believed the media myth that she had a voice of the highest calibre.

It suited the judges to pretend that she was truly exceptional, just as it suited Blair to show people that he was supported by a financial wizard - a Merlin to his King Arthur - in the Camelot of Cool Britannia.

Brown fell for one of the biggest PR stunts of all time.

Ross said...

The big difference between Susan Boyle and Gordon Brown is that Boyle has faced the voters.

James Higham said...

With those hyenas behind him with their stilettos, is it any wonder he's buckling?