Christina Patterson: The smile that says you're better off relieved of power

The Saturday Column
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The Independent Online

Hang out the bunting and yell it from the rooftops. Clap your hands and sing songs of praise. For that thing has come to pass that nobody ever thought would come to pass. Gordon Brown is happy.

The first signs were on Tuesday, at Labour headquarters. Faces crumpled and tear ducts leaked as the bloodied warrior before them, who had, for weeks, for months, for years, offered his jowly jaws up for further blows, and got them, finally told them that the fight was up. Not their fight, obviously. That, he told them sternly, would go on and on and on (until, perhaps, they too had faces that looked like maps of sorrow) but for him the fight was up.

The tears in that room were real. They were tears born of respect for a man who (a bit like the legless knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) never gave up. They were tears of affection for a man who, though famously bad-tempered, could be kind and warm. But most of all they were tears of relief. Relief that the agony was over.

The relief of party workers was as nothing to the waves of euphoria rippling through Gordon's soul. You could see it in that smile. Not the rictus grin that made him look like a once-noble gorilla crazed by captivity, but a proper, real smile. For the burden that this man had carried on his hefty shoulders since early youth, the burden of showing this country the error of its ways, and frogmarching it into the light, the burden of pretending that he watched soaps when actually he was poring over the works of Gertrude Himmelfarb, and the burden of trying to chat to people who couldn't identify even the basic principles of post neo-classical endogenous growth theory, had gone.

"I loved the job," he said on the steps of Downing Street, "not for its prestige, its titles and its ceremony, which I do not love at all." Some may have scoffed, but I believed him. I think Gordon Brown yearned not to "be Prime Minister" but to run the country because he thought no one else was up to the job. Can you imagine the torture of believing you're called to do something, and struggling and fighting for it all your life, and sacrificing friendships, and sleep, and sanity for it, and then discovering that – well, that you're just not very good at it? That those pockets of genius you always knew you had were just that – pockets, but not the full suit, not the full monty. Not, in other words, enough.

Being bad at something isn't good for the soul. Nor is being in a constant state of war. And nor, actually, is being regularly mocked and humiliated. Whatever political decisions they have to make, our new Prime Minister and his winsome deputy are bound to cope better. They have thicker skins, better social skills, and a calmer brand of self-confidence than the man whose giant bovver boots they now fill. Angst, you feel, is something Clegg might have done a dissertation on, but something Cameron might have to look up in a dictionary.

When William Hague stood down as leader of the Conservative Party, he had a whole new lease of life. On the after-dinner speech circuit, he would regularly extol the benefits of retirement, and the joys of life as a backbencher, giving (extremely lucrative) speeches and writing books. It was, he said, "a liberation" to ditch something he wasn't good at. Now he's got high office again, and little chats with Hillary Clinton, but you don't feel it would bother him if he didn't.

For all those who have suddenly been ejected from jobs, from seats, from ministerial posts and constituency homes, this is a tough time. Being a government minister isn't a job, it's a life. And being a prime minister isn't a job, or a life, it's a purgatorial state between heaven and earth where you're responsible for everything, everywhere, all the time. Jobs that are lives, and purgatorial states of failed omnipotence, are not things you replace overnight. But in the end, you do. And in the process, if you're lucky, you discover that there are more important things in life than feeling important.

It helps, of course, to have what Denis Healey called "a hinterland". Margaret Thatcher, famously, didn't. Gordon Brown does. He also has the ever-loving, ever-tweeting Sarah and those – we now know – scrumptious little boys. I don't know what the next five years will be like for this country, or for those ministers now plotting their come-back, or for a Labour party trying to "regroup" and "refresh", or for Lembit Opik. But I do know this. At least we don't have to worry about Gordon.

Lessons for the leadership from the ladies' loos

By the time we're 80, according to an American academic, most women will have spent two years in the loo. And what are we doing in there? Fiddling with the gusset on our tights? Expelling lattes at a snail's pace? Reading War and Peace? No, we're queueing, of course.

The US government, in an object lesson to ours (in which, it has to be said, a shortage of female loos may not be too much of an issue), is tackling the issue with appropriate gravity and a bill. The Potty Parity Act, as it's been dubbed, will require all new federal buildings in the US to be equipped with enough stalls to make sure that women never have to wait longer than men.

It's a noble aspiration, but might I offer Obama a little tip? Quantity matters, but so does quality. If there are hand dryers, let them be those super-dooper fast ones where you thrust your hands in wet, and pull them out, a micro-moment later, dry. And if there be mirrors (and of course there must be mirrors), may they be those heavily tinted ones that make you look healthy and thin? The mirrors in the loos at The Independent's old offices made most of us look like Siberian peasants emerging from a gulag. In the loos of our new ones, you can hardly see your silhouette. Hand-washing chats with colleagues are now much chirpier.

It's a relatively cheap way of cheering up the masses. And God knows, we're going to need a lot of those.

First the hysteria, then the wisteria

I'm not sure I'd ever really clocked the existence of wisteria until the removal of it featured as an item on David Cameron's expenses. Now, it seems to be everywhere: hanging in great festoons on the posh white houses near our office, and on those near the park where I sometimes go for a walk. And, as we saw from the pictures of that happy union on Wednesday, in the Downing Street garden. Somehow, wisteria has become a symbol for me of our new, not-quite-blue Government. It's certainly pretty. It's also, apparently, "an invasive species in certain areas". Oh, and it can "clamber up a tree or supporting structure" and "strangle" or "crush" it.