Thursday, September 27, 2007

The people have spoken: just get on with it

I wouldn't have thought that Gordon Brown was much of a gambling man, but if he really is going to call an early election I'll have to reassess that. To go to the polls would be the act of a real high roller: enormous risk with no much reward on offer. A gratuitous act done for the pure, intoxicating thrill. (Oh and it "will do no credit to Brown, the Labour Party or British parliamentary democracy".)

But, you might be asking, what of the chance of getting his own mandate, dishing the Tories for good, and cementing a liberal-left lock on power? Mere stuff, I reply. The worst thing that could happen to Brown is that he'll be compared to George Canning; the best is a comparison to Tony Blair. My guess, though, is that he'll end up turning himself into John Major: a small majority which leaves him in thrall to his own party's awkward squad and leeches away his authority. A combination of poor weather, a few more economic jitters – maybe even a few nasty shocks– and voters asking "why now, what's he hiding?" could very easily leave him in that unenviable position.

Nor do I think he'll necessarily compare well with Tony Blair in future years. If you were to split Blair in half (form an orderly queue there) and divide his most disagreeable characteristics equally between the two halves – say his vacuity, slick PR-driven style and transparent thirst for power on side; his intolerance for debate within his party, obsequious pandering to the very wealthy and shameless appropriation of Thatcherist ideas on the other – you'd pretty much end up with Cameron and Brown.

Still, like Norm, I enjoy elections. A close bloody fight which leaves both leaders looking weak and foolish would be just fine by me.

I've been wondering, though, why Brown leaves me so cold (in the case of Cameron it's easy: he seems like a prat). This week, though, it all fell into place. Never mind all these lazy references to his Presbyterian roots and being a son of the manse (I have Presbyterian roots and I would hardly feel put off if I'd learned a young lady I was keen on was the daughter of a clergyman). The thing is, Brown gives of the unmistakable odour of a Victorian public school headmaster. It was his wholesale appropriation of Edward Thring's mantra: everyone has talents, we must work to ensure that they achieve their potential that finally clinched it for me.

It's worth pointing out that I went to Uppingham, Thring's old place, where this was still a guiding principle. While it's sound enough in principle – a statement of the bleeding obvious, in fact – it had a few practical problems. It gave the school a particular appeal to the parents of rich thickies who could be coaxed through exams given sufficient attention, but who didn't need to be pushed or encouraged to think because they could fulfill their potential on the rugger pitch. The other problem is that this whole thing rather implies that life is a process of working towards a set purpose to which our talents direct us. Pious, deterministic guff, in other words: we're not machines that need to be finely tuned; well-rounded, interesting, valuable people are flawed individuals who waste time on stuff they might not be great at rather than nurturing their potential in things they are talented at.

Put it this way: do you really think David Beckham would have given more to humanity if only he'd spent more time practising his free kicks? Would the world be a better place if Madeleine Bunting honed her skills for writing utter tripe about religion that bit more; if I made more of an effort at drinking and conjuring up mischievous historical analogies?

I should have spotted Brown's headmasterish-ness when he started his term of office by alluding to the dear old school's motto and British values (because no other nation cares about things like looking after each other). The signs were when he was started spouting off about patriotism and the empire's civilising mission.

Then there is the almost intolerable combination of priggishness and cant in his heavy-handed efforts to impose the correct moral tone on the nation. Remember the delight his u-turn on the casino was greeted with by the most sanctimonious elements of the press (the Mardian, we might call them). Yeah, turns out that gambling's not so much of a problem after all. Then there's more of the same with hints at cutting back on our drinking time. Why? Simply from the desire that we must be made to behave as our betters would wish.

Of course, while the heyday of the public school turned out pious, hardworking Christian gentlemen, they also underpinned a society which was characterised by massive economic inequality and unrestrained greed from the more rapacious elements of the city. Still we needn't worry about that* so long as people are taught to work hard, love their country and to behave themselves.

* Unless after a mere ten years of setting taxes it becomes politically embarrassing.



Blogger Quink said...

Once again I recommend TWH Crosland's Unspeakable Scot (1908):

"It is to these redoubtable Scotch persons that England is looking for good government, and hence it comes to pass that of late she has had to govern herself. Out of Scotchmen you can get nothing businesslike and nothing dignified, at any rate where statesmanship is concerned. Their ambitions are illimitable, but their powers of execution not worth counting. They will fight, from behind cover, to more or less bitter and ignominious ends, but like the Boer farmers to whom in many other large respects they bear the most striking resemblances, they never know when they are beaten, and their warfare deteriorates into mere brigandism and filibustering. When Britain was ruled by Englishmen, she wore the epithet Great by good right ; since she has been ruled by Scotchmen she has well nigh lost it."

I don't buy your public school master argument - Brown is the epitome of the dominie. Though a quick google reveals I'm not alone in thinking so...

9:18 am  
Blogger bill said...

Well, if you want to draw Scottish allusions, Holy Willie might be a more apt comparison.

Dominie vs Public School Headmaster: which do you think would annoy Brown and his supporters more? and do you think that may have influenced my choice?

12:33 pm  

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