The façade of fairness

September 23, 2008 at 10:29 pm | Posted in British Politics, Gordon Brown, New Labour | Leave a comment
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It’d be churlish to deny that when judged solely as a political performance, Brown’s speech was reasonably effective. With all the competing demands and expectations placed upon him, the PM needed to strike the kind of balance that would’ve challenged the average tightrope walker, let alone a modestly gifted orator. He had to appear humbled by the leadership speculation & the opinion poll hammering, yet still emit the gravitas of a world statesman. He needed to admit to & apologise for the diabolical errors he’s made in both policy and presentation, yet still persuade people that he remains the right man for the job. Lastly, he needed to deflect responsibility for the country’s economic woe but insist that only he can help lead the country through it.

He achieved all these aims to some degree, and whilst the speech was at least 2,000 words too long, it demonstrated that there’s still some life in the old clunking fist yet. If Labour doesn’t end the week with at least a two point gain in their approval, then it’ll prove conclusively that the rest of the country has just stopped listening.

But it was just a speech. As others have noted, anyone on the left who’d naively hoped Brown might add some red meat to the rhetoric was once again left looking like a kid on a council estate who prays she gets a pony for Christmas. Whatever may or may not change in the political landscape in the weeks ahead, Brown’s vision remains fundamentally the same. In this new state of ‘fairness’, his welfare reforms are still drafted by a former investment banker, the working class still endure a tax hike so the middle class can enjoy a tax cut, law & order policy is still dictated by Paul Dacre and the gap between the richest & poorest remains eye-wateringly high. On top of this, prisoners still can’t vote, asylum seekers still can’t work, the people he praised for providing public services still can’t get a pay rise that matches inflation and hospital porters still give a greater proportion of their income to the taxman than hedge fund managers. At best, Brown’s is a conveniently incomplete view of fairness. At worst, it’s a complete disfigurement.

All of which is stating the stark-nakedly obvious, of course. What we don’t know, what we can’t yet know, is whether any of this is enough to cling to those seats like Crewe & Nantwich which never should’ve been lost in the first place. Is Brown’s piecemeal, haphazardly-packaged vision enough to stop the bleeding everywhere from the middle-class marginals to former strongholds like Sunderland? And if not, would the imagined advantages of removing Brown outweigh the very real risks?

I haven’t a clue, but I’m at least comforted by the fact that no one in the illustrious commentariat is any the wiser, either. For the moment, all we can do is wait until the moment the Queen bequeaths us another election and the parties once again beg us into the voting booth to choose between the lesser of ‘who cares?’


I can hardly wait.

Image by Flickr user Judepics (Creative Commons)


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