Bruce Anderson: Brown clings on – dithering, bloodied, but not yet broken

Gordon Brown can't make a decision – but he won't let others decide either

Share
Related Topics

In the early 1980s, there was a scandal in the Irish Republic. Although the details are long forgotten, it endowed us with a useful phrase. Charlie Haughey, the then Irish Premier, described the events as "grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented" – which was instantly abbreviated to Gubu. Britain now has a Gubu government.

It was a Gubu reshuffle, but we should not content ourselves with laughing it to scorn. The resignation of the Defence Secretary, John Hutton, helps to explain why this has become such a rotten government. Mr Hutton had become browned off with serving in it. He is 54, a little old to relish the endless frustrations of long years in Opposition. So he tells us that he is leaving politics to spend more time with his family.

All well and good, except that he is Defence Secretary. Doesn't he know there's a war on? A soldier serving in Afghanistan would have great difficulty in obtaining compassionate leave. Thousands of military wives and children would love it if Daddy could spend more time with his family. But these soldiers and their families know their duty. It is contemptible than the man in charge does not know his. John Hutton could have announced that he was standing down at the next election. In the meantime, he should have stayed at his post. Because he deserted it, we now have the fourth Defence Secretary in four years. That is no way to treat the armed forces. The veterans were right to boo Gordon Brown.

The only excuse to be made for Mr Hutton is that ministers in this government have never been encouraged to take themselves seriously. A Defence Secretary will enjoy all the prestige of that great office. For anyone with a feel for history – which John Hutton has – it must be a wonderful appointment. But the glamour soon wears off if you are never allowed to take a decision. The Admirals and Generals may be respectful, but the hapless minister will still sense their frustration.

"What's the matter with the fellow?", they will be saying to themselves. "We gave him the options two weeks ago. Why can't he make up his mind?" There is a simple answer to that, but he can hardly be expected to admit that this government is run by a dithering tyrant who will neither allow his ministers to take decisions nor take them himself. Often, indeed, he will not even take his ministers' phone calls. The crucial papers are stuck on a desk as the mobile phones fly overhead and secretaries of state have to cajole and flatter junior No.10 advisers in order to find out what is happening.

So one can understand why John Hutton became so fed up that he quit. He should still not have done it. Even if Gordon Brown treated him as a cipher, that is not how the armed forces and their families regard him – and Whitehall is less of a hardship posting than Helmand Province. They are not yet shooting at each other in Hell-Gord Province.

There are plenty of other grounds for censuring the reshuffle. One of them is the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. If you have not heard of it, you can relax, for it has now been wound up after only two years in existence. John Denham – not heard of him either? – has earned his place in history, as the first and last Secretary of State at the DIUS. But forget about running a government; this is no way to run a bath. When a new department is established, there is disruption. Costs are incurred. After two years, everything should be settling down. So scrapping the whole thing and starting again, if not the full Gubu, is certainly bizarre: more cipher treatment.

In view of all this, Caroline Flint can hardly be blamed for resigning because she was not promoted to the Cabinet. After all, she had supported Gordon Brown. That must be worth a promotion. But she may have been unwise to object to her exclusion from the PM's inner circle. Did she really want to compose e-mails with Damian McPoison?

Miss Flint was also unfortunate. In her letter of resignation, she complained that the PM had shown no respect for her intellectual qualities. The implication was that he regarded her as mere eye-candy. But every newspaper's photo archive had pictures of her looking like a professional model. No-one had any recollection of her saying anything interesting about policy.

Even so, that was no reason for Mr Brown to keep her out, given some of the dunderheads in Cabinet. Why not invent a new ministry? The Department of Sultry and Pouting, perhaps. Or should it be Innovation, Skills and Lipstick?

But it is hard to believe that Caroline Flint has only just realised that this Labour government regards its women as a decorative part of the constitution. To be fair to Gordon Brown, this started under Tony Blair, who was often photographed with his female MPs and never paid any attention to their views. What is the collective noun for Labour's ladies? A catwalk. It is extraordinary that the girls never complained. After all, most of them would claim to be feminists. Miss Flint herself is a former head of the women's unit at the National Union of Students. But after 12 years of docility, it is a bit late to complain about sexism.

Now the case of Lord Sugar. His was a strange appointment. It would appear to have all the defects of populism, except popularity. There is a further factor. Alan Sugar is to have a role in geeing up business. But we already have a Business Secretary, the Lord Mandelson, who has shown no reticence in his dealings with commerce. Peter Mandelson must have approved the appointment, confident that he could turn Alan Sugar into the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Yet Lord Sugar is not used to subordination. It is easy to imagine him asking Lord Mandelson how many businesses he has run. It will not make for good government, but it should be fun.

Which is more than they had in East Ham yesterday afternoon. Gordon Brown arrived with Peter Mandelson and Harriet Harman, to talk to Labour activists and the TV cameras. There were some successes. For once, Mr Brown looked as if he had enjoyed a night's sleep. Lord Mandelson managed not to look bored, which must have taken a lot of self-control. Lord, the tedium: it was as if Todor Zhivkov, the last Stalinist ruler of Bulgaria, had held a public meeting to allay anxieties after the Communist Party's vote in the Plovdiv by-election had fallen to 99.8 per cent.

Most of the audience seemed to be Labour councillors. It was lucky for Mr Brown that there had been no local government elections in London, otherwise he would not have had enough councillors to fill a small room. The average questioner talked in jargon and congratulated the Great Leader on his achievements, especially in the NHS. To judge by the hall, the health service in East London has had plenty of money to pay for humour-ectomies.

The meeting was obviously organised at short notice by summoning the trusties, hence the Soviet-era loyalty. It would have been better to choreograph the odd passage of dissent. As it was, the event gave the impression that Gordon Brown was only addressing his core vote: "core" spelt with an initial "b". But the PM did not look like a man in the grip of despair. Any Labour MP who might have hoped that one more push would dislodge him would have been disappointed.

This piece went to press before the Euro results. If Labour should finish fourth, the fires of insurrection may be uncontrollable. Otherwise, it looks as if Gubu Roi will hold on: battered, bloodied but not yet broken.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
One calculation suggests that Isis has recruited more British Muslims than the 600 or so who serve in the British Armed Forces  

Jihadi John and his fellow Isis fighters from the UK are flippant, fanatical... and distinctly British

Boyd Tonkin
8,000 white-clawed crayfish are forecast to perish in the River Allen as a result of the plague  

Errors and Omissions: Plagued by an inappropriate use of a metaphor

Guy Keleny
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape