Saturday, 19 September 2009

Should Brown blunder more?

While John Major was under pressure as Prime Minister (pretty much any time between 1990 and 1997), he once said: "When your back's to the wall, it's time to turn around and fight." This line gives a flavour of why, as his government lurched from sleaze to sniping to occasional outright criminality, Major was never hated. Pitied, yes, seen as shy, dull , aloof, even incompetent by some, but always as fundamentally decent. Even his defiance seemed inept.

To me, a child at the time, he seemed nice, in the way that an absent-minded distant relative is nice. No matter how many revelations emerge about him as Thatcher's silent assassin, he will always be seen by a large chunk of the population as a decent man. Perhaps there is a lesson for Gordon Brown here.

Quite simply, Labour stands a cat in hell's chance of winning the next election. Favourable election boundaries will soften the blow, but nowhere near enough to stop 2010 being a mirror image of 1997. The problem for Labour is that is faces threats Major's Conservatives never faced: its base is either apathetic or deserting. to the Tories, the Lib Dems, even the BNP. The threat is to Labour's very existence as a major force.

Against this background, the only real focus can be damage limitation. One painless way to help preserve the Labour brand would be for Gordon Brown to abandon any hope of appearing charming, easy-going, even, hardest if all, fully in control. Out with the awkward mistimed smiles that punctuate sentences at random intervals, out with the voice coaching and the choreographed activist extras. Even with the super-smooth Tony Blair, there came a point when slick presentation became a greasy sheen. With Brown, the impression is that he is concentrating so hard on being comfortable in his own skin that what he is saying comes a distant second.

Allowing presentation to slip a little might actually help matters. Most people find public speaking as excruciating as Brown clearly does, and would run a mile to avoid that strained, cringeworthy YouTube appearance. It might even, if done well, convey an austere getting-on-with-the-job vibe.

However, the likelihood is that it won't help Brown much - he'd still bear all the current ridicule, and there's no hope of his transforming into a BoJo-esque charming bungler. It probably won't help Labour much next year. But being nice, a little inept and overwhelmed could just uncouple the mess of the current administration from the Labour brand in some people's minds. Labour are clutching at straws, after all, and this one looks stronger than most.

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