Since Tony Blair left office at the beginning of last summer, British politics has been in a state of flux. Now finally, things seem to be settling down with a slew of polls showing the same thing – a government in serious trouble and the Conservative opposition well ahead for the first time in two decades. Pretty much all the commentariat in the newspapers agree that the reason for this is the dismal performance of the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown. At the moment they are crowing about the way that he is being ignored on his trip to the United States, which is hardly surprising given his lack of star appeal.
But I think the experts get the reasons for Brown’s failure wrong. We often hear journalists and politicians claim that “no one knows what he stands for”; “he has no programme” and “he has no vision.” They imagine that these are the things that the public is telling itself and if only Brown could articulate his beliefs, then all would be well for him. It is true that the Prime Minister is often over-cautious and can appear to be dithering. The election that he failed to call last October after letting everyone think he was about to is a case in point. He wanted to test the water, but it made him look like a man who couldn’t take the plunge. But much of this is media spin. The real problem is more basic and nothing to do with presentation.
Most people in Britain are not poor. While many feel themselves under pressure financially, they also have aspirations to be even better off. They would like a bigger house, a German car and a smaller ipod. Gordon Brown’s public priority has always been for the poor, especially poor children and pensioners. He has, over the last ten years while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, used vast amounts of public money to try to improve their lot. He may even have succeeded to some extent although you would never guess it from watching the evening news. He boasts of his ‘moral compass’ and there is little doubt he possesses one. He wants a more just society where the have-nots are properly looked after. This is all extremely laudable and Christians should applaud it. But none of this has much appeal for the Middle Classes, especially while the credit crunch is making them nervous.
So I conclude that people know perfectly well what Brown cares about. The problem is, they think it isn’t them. Ask an average person if Brown is on their side and they will say no he isn’t. He may be on the side of the poor, the dispossessed and the needy, but in a democracy that is never enough. Tony Blair could always convince the Middle Classes that he was one of them and had their interests at heart. Brown cannot because he doesn’t.
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