Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 5 September 2015

Gordon’s no tonic, but will Dave be much better?

Published 19/09/2008

It is difficult not to feel sorry for Gordon Brown. He waited for years and years to become Prime Minister and then, when he finally gets the key to Number 10, it all goes pear-shaped. Part of his problems are of his own making, but he is also a victim of circumstances.

The credit crunch, the housing downturn and the global financial turmoil are no fault of his.

His biggest problem is one of perception. He was seen as a sure-footed Chancellor but is regarded as a dithering Prime Minister. That dates back to shortly after taking office when he chickened out of a general election. How he would love to have that time back again.

Now he finds himself assailed on all fronts. Some of his colleagues are in open revolt, claiming he must go and go as soon as possible. There are obvious echoes of the last Tory Government in what is happening to Labour now.

The Prime Minister was even shown scant regard by Northern Ireland’s MLAs when he came to the province this week. He urged the DUP and Sinn Fein to sort out their differences and set a date for devolution of policing and justice powers.

But this annoyed the DUP, and even the Ulster Unionists, no end. Nigel Dodds, the Finance Minister, and Sir Reg Empey, the leader of the Ulster Unionists, dismissed the Prime Minister’s plea and said they would not be forced into making any decision on the timing for devolution of policing and justice.

Ironically, at the same time Mr Dodds was pressing the Prime Minister for financial aid. He wants funds to help offset the deferred water charges and the bill for settling a civil service pay dispute. Mr Dodds came up with several ideas, but the Prime Minister was hardly impressed with the way his own remarks had been received.

He might just turn a deaf ear to Mr Dodds’ financial shopping list.

We should be grateful that the Prime Minister, given the personal pressure he is under, took the time to come to Northern Ireland and to talk to local politicians.

He has enough on his plate with the economy in turmoil and the financial markets going haywire and everyone writing off his chances or remaining as Prime Minister.

In a way the economy is the one thing keeping him in a job. Effectively sacking the Prime Minister at this time — as some of his colleagues want to do — would probably put the economy into a full blown recession.

The country does need political stability at this time. Of course, some Labour MPs, fearing a massacre at the polls at the next General Election, want the Prime Minister to go now. Their vain hope is that a new leader can transform the party, make it electable again and save their own skins.

Gordon Brown knows as well as anyone else that his most dangerous opponents are within his own party. Politicians accept that they can be voted out of office by the electorate.

That is just the nature of the game. But they know that their own colleagues are the people most likely to destroy them completely. Colleagues are utterly ruthless when they feel under threat.

When the financial turmoil dies down, it is likely that the Prime Minister will find himself unemployed. If his party doesn’t get him first, the electorate will. New Labour has run out of new ideas and popular appeal.

The Tories do not appeal as any great shakes, but they are the only viable alternative to Labour at Westminster. What a terrible legacy for Gordon Brown — making David Cameron seem statesmanlike.

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