Leave Gordon aloooooone!
The suddenly sunny Paul Krugman notes: Weird politics here in London, with Gordon Brown desperately unpopular even (or maybe especially) among those who surely share his general ideological outlook. And yet … British economic policies in this crisis have been more aggressive than those of the rest of Europe — and the fall in the ...
Weird politics here in London, with Gordon Brown desperately unpopular even (or maybe especially) among those who surely share his general ideological outlook. And yet …
British economic policies in this crisis have been more aggressive than those of the rest of Europe — and the fall in the pound has given Britain a serious competitive boost…. It’s not far-fetched to imagine that Britain will soon be experiencing at least a modest recovery, even as its neighbors languish. Yet that possibility doesn’t seem to factor into any of the political discussion.
(See this column for more.) I will admit that from the outside, it’s a little hard to understand why Gordon Brown inspires the level of loathing that he seems to in Britain. Gideon Rachman is a bit confused as well, writing after last weekend’s European elections:
There is only one big country in the European Union that is having a national nervous breakdown – Britain.
The UK was the only one of the six biggest EU countries where the governing party did not come either first or a close second. Labour was forced into a humiliating third position with just over 15 per cent of the vote. Gordon Brown’s defeated army straggled in behind the United Kingdom Independence party (Ukip), which wants to pull Britain out of the EU. To compound the agony, the collapse in Labour’s vote meant that the openly racist British National party (BNP) has gained two seats in the parliament – and all the money and publicity that goes with it.
The picture in the five other largest EU countries is very different. Despite the fact that the German economy has shrunk by almost 7 per cent over the past year, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats will again be the largest German party in the European parliament. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP trounced the Socialist opposition – and both the extreme left and the extreme right had a bad night. Poland’s centre-right Civic Platform won easily. The governing People of Freedom party came out ahead in Italy, despite a rash of humiliating scandals involving its leader Silvio Berlusconi. Even in Spain, where unemployment has soared, the ruling Socialists only lost narrowly to the centre-right.
All the Brown-hate clearly has to do with more than just the economy or Labour fatigue. Recent polls show that Labour, so long as Brown weren’t in charge, might even have a chance of beating the Tories in a national election. This is strange since, as Krugman notes, it’s hard to find too much fault with how Brown has responded to the crisis. Nor is the ongoing MP expenses scandal — in which both parties and indeed the entire British political elite are implicated — sufficient explanation for why Brown in particular makes such a target. Is it just the Brown is seen as kind of a loser?
In their “drop Brown” editorial, the left-wing Guardian‘s editors wrote:
Any assessment must recognise the strength of Mr Brown’s response to the financial implosion. When action to save the banks was needed, he acted impressively. But flaws in his character that drove his party close to revolt last summer now dominate again.
Even Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, who has emerged as one of Brown’s most effective critics, grudgingly gives him some credit before tearing him down again:
And we won’t tackle that problem until we shift power wholesale from executive to legislature and from state to citizen (see here for a primer on how to do it). Lots of politicians are now groping their way towards these conclusions – including, in his clumsy way, Gordon Brown. The trouble is that he is in no position to begin a task of such magnitude.
Brown seems to be in the strange position of being unpopular mainly because he’s so unpopular. He’s leading his party toward what seems to be certain electoral doom, and yet his enemies seem unable to get rid of him, failing at a summit this week to gather enough votes to oust him.
Hannan sees this as evidence of Labour’s cowardice, the Economist credits the behind-the-scenes politicking of his advisors and Labour’s culture of loyalty. But, as a complete outsider, I wonder if there isn’t something useful in keeping a figures so widely disliked as Brown in charge. With him gone, it might become more immediately obvious that responsibility for the financial malaise and the expenses scandal is shared by an entire political and financial culture, not one man. And Britain’s new leaders may find themselves suddenly without someone whose personality flaws they can blame for their inability to fix it.
TAL COHEN/AFP/Getty Images
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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