Denis MacShane: Battered Brown, bashing on and on, is not ready to quit

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Is it over-and-out time for Gordon Brown? The signs are bad. Endless ex-ministers queue up to bash the PM. One compares him to John Major even though the whole point of Sir John is that he won a fourth-term election everyone expected him to lose. Another gets front-page treatment by protesting about a temporary tax rise which means citizens on £3,000 a week have to pay a little more tax.

When the gods want to destroy a political party they first allow ex-ministers to open their mouths. I have my views on Mr Brown, and when minister for Europe I knew what it was like to be briefed against. The venom against MPs as fiddling thieving crooks is awesome. David Cameron and Nick Clegg could smell the coffee of public hate against MPs. But the Tory and Lib Dem leaders are part of the problem and have proposed no solution.

I spent last week at the Council of Europe with Conservative and Lib Dem MPs. Their comments about the grandstanding of their leaders do not bear reprinting. While the Tory leader has fabulous personal wealth and his new all-male front row consists of the richest politicians outside the Kremlin, many Tory MPs have only their MPs' salary. They see GPs, town hall executives, police officers whose highest qualification was an O-level or the mandarins of the BBC trousering six-figure salaries and wonder why David Cameron is so keen to keep his MPs on the lowest rungs of the public-sector pay ladder.

And where does this leave Gordon Brown? I am a secret fan of Sylvester Stallone and surely today's Prime Minister is Rocky. Battered, beaten, brooding, bruised to bits and at times unable to communicate with the public-school fluency of a Cameron or Clegg but still there bashing on and on and on.

A myth is about that Britain's economic mess is uniquely Brown's fault. Never mind that the German GDP is sinking far faster; unemployment in Spain is now at 17 per cent and rising; there are huge street demonstrations in France as the French reject President Sarkozy, elected with such fanfare just two years ago, let alone the ever-increasing bankruptcies in America despite a new charmer in the White House.

Today's crisis finds Britain in the same company as every other nation in the world. There is no national solution. Only a European and supranational way out can make sense. At the level of UK choice there are two policies on offer. A Keynesian one from Labour and a neo-Thatcherite one from the Conservatives. Both have downsides. Endless borrowing does serious damage to public finances if growth does not return.

But equally, the Tory offer of cuts in spending will destroy scores of thousands of small firms that now deliver public services from house-building to training as well as putting out of work all the consultants and agencies set up to spend public money.

But whichever road is taken by voters, there will be no national solutions to the crisis. Hence Brown's almost obsessive and utterly exhausting touring of the world and suffering being patronised by obscure east European politicians or a president of Pakistan whose relationship with money is best kept unmentioned.

Like Rocky, Gordon Brown lurches from one side of the ring to the other taking a terrible beating. But in the end? Well, we know what happened to Rocky. And voters will soon have the chance to be the referee. But the match is not over and those counting Brown out should wait a while.

Denis MacShane is a former Europe minister and Labour MP for Rotherham

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