Gordon Brown is destroying himself

The former prime minister's speech on phone-hacking was everything he is not: self-pitying, vengeful

Gordon Brown has nothing to prove. He is one of the truly great political figures of his generation. Forget the jokes and the barbs. Few of his contemporaries, on either side of the political divide, have the singularity of purpose, reservoir of intellect or passion for social justice displayed by Labour's most recent prime minister.

But he is destroying himself. He is tearing apart his own reputation and legacy with a brutality his political opponents could only dream of.

That such a reputation and legacy exist is not open to debate. Brown is the engine room of the most successful Labour government in history. As chancellor, he delivered levels of prosperity that will be eyed enviously for generations to come. As prime minister, when the world stared into the financial abyss, it was he who successfully marshalled the global response.

And that legacy is now being crushed beneath a desperate, tortured, misguided lunge for public redemption.

There are times when the House of Commons is a showcase for all that is good about British public service. And there are times when it devours its own. Yesterday it stood back and allowed one of the great British parliamentarians to coldly and calmly commit political suicide.

You'll be hearing and reading a lot today about Gordon's speech in the phone-hacking debate. A tour-de-force. Vintage Gordon. A powerful sermon against the immorality of power without responsibility.

It was none of those things. It was everything Gordon Brown is not. Self-pitying. Simplistic. Vengeful.

Phone-hacking was everyone's fault but his own. The Tory government. The civil service. His own colleagues in the Home Office.

He had fought against the might of the Murdoch Empire. He had been planning to act. If only fate, (and by implication, the electorate), had not conspired against him.

Those Labour backbenchers who roared him on should take a long, hard look at themselves. They were like a crowd at a dog-fight, drunk by the spectacle, and their own proximity to it. The very people who moments before had voiced their approval at Ed Miliband's skilful ability to secure cross-party consensus were suddenly baying like football hooligans at any Tory MP who, legitimately, attempted to intervene.

Phone-hacking is a disgusting affair. Corruption, cowardice and criminality are its hallmarks; the Dowlers, the families of the 7/7 dead and the fallen of Afghanistan its victims. Do we really have to add Brown to their number?

I spent yesterday asking people what they thought Gordon was trying to achieve. "He's freelancing," said one Labour insider. "He's out on his own. He's not talking to Ed or anyone about this". I asked someone else if anyone was trying to advise him. "Yes," came the answer, "but he won't listen".

Someone has to make him. Here's Sky's Jon Craig's description of the debate; "I couldn't help noticing a stunned silence from most members of the Labour frontbench and from wise old grandees like Jack Straw. A short time earlier, Ed Miliband had won plaudits from senior Conservatives for the measured, reasonable and consensual tone of his speech opening the debate. Gordon Brown was none of these."

The Telegraph's Allison Pearson:

For Brown to complain about the invasion of "private grief" was like Faust moaning that someone had forged his signature on the pact with the Devil. Brown told the BBC, "There was nothing you could do, you're in public life."

Actually, there were plenty of things that Brown, as a senior member of the New Labour government, could and should have done. He could have told Brooks that it was a private medical matter under Press Complaints Commission rules and she would not have been able to print a word. Or he could have gone completely crazy and put moral principle before political advantage -- a quality he extols in his book Courage. But the fact is, Gordon wanted to help Rebekah Brooks out. However upset he and Sarah were, the thought of upsetting the Murdoch empire was worse.

One Labour MP I spoke to who worked closely with Gordon during his time in government could literally not believe the stance he was adopting on the phone-hacking issue; "What are we getting? Gordon Brown, 'how I stood up to Murdoch'. Jesus. Is he serious?"

Gordon Brown is a man in pain. The pain of defeat. The pain of public rejection. The pain of an unfulfilled political journey.Those are legitimate emotions; raw and genuine. And raw and genuine is what Gordon Brown is.

But as well as revealing the real Gordon Brown, those emotions are also obscuring him. He is so much better than this. A rambling list of hostile newspapers headlines. Some bitter responses to a bunch of second grade Tory back-benchers. Is this really how Gordon Brown wants us to remember him?

Gordon Brown has nothing to prove to anyone. Least of all himself.

 

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The Conservatives' problems won't end once a DUP deal is reached

Theresa May's handling of the talks has left a considerable dent in the Tory reputation for competence.

Theresa May's fascinating scale model of Tony Blair's premiership – minus the war, the landslides and the lasting social change – continues. On 18 April she was as popular as Blair in 1994. She's now more unpopular (-40) than Blair was when he stepped down in 2007, though not quite below his 2006 nadir (-44%).

Towards the end, cartoonists frequently portrayed Labour's last election-winner as a zombie. Now May gets that dubious honour too on the cover of this week's NS - "The Zombie PM" is our cover story. (In all reputable stores now. Subscribers get it cheaper.)

Other than Brexit, where as George notes, as far as Brexit goes, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that the Conservatives still had a comfortable majority, the Queen's Speech was notable for what wasn't in it as much as what was. The two-year gap before another one is partly about the complexity of Brexit, but partly, too, about avoiding moments of maximum danger as far as the government's parliamentary position goes.

The government's position will improve once that accord with the DUP is reached, which is expected sooner rather than later. Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP's Chief Whip, has talked about how "a change in attitude" on the Conservative side has put the talks back on track.

May made life more difficult for herself by publicly announcing she would govern with the support of the DUP. As John Major said, announcing that the Conservatives had both more votes and seats than anyone else and inviting the opposition to come and have a go would have still meant a deal with the DUP, but one conducted in private and without exposing the Conservative brand to contamination among liberal Britons thanks to the DUP's more traditional flavour of conservatism.

She also made the third biggest mistake you can make, after starting a land war in Russia or betting against a Sicilian when death is on the line, which is to negotiate with the DUP in newsprint.

All of which means that, deal or no deal, the Conservatives will have to grapple with three entirely self-inflicted problems. The first is the unease that much of the DUP platform provokes in England, Scotland and Wales and what that will reinforce about the Tory party. The second is that it has left a considerable dent in the Tory reputation for competence. The third is that the DUP now know that when it comes to negotiations, they're a lot better at it than the Conservatives on the other side of the table.

All three of those problems will continue to make life miserable for the Zombie PM and whoever her successor ends up being.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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