Matthew Norman: Anyone would be better than Brown – even Kerry Katona

The mystery is why enough doubt persists for Charles Clarke to feel obliged to launch another Exocet
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The Independent Online

One of my favourite things about life on this sceptred isle is the limitless British capacity to embrace what once repelled us. It's an extension of Alan Bennett's nostrum that the one requirement to be deemed worthy of the Nobel Prize is reaching 90 years old and being able to eat a boiled egg intact, and I call it Bob Monkhouse Syndrome By Proxy. However derided, distrusted, disregarded and disliked a public figure might be, all they need do is doughtily carry on doing what made them loathed in the first place, and the British veneration for staying power will act as catalyst to convert all those negative feelings into affection.

That metamorphosis is surely underway for a man who has spent years attracting ridicule and contempt for banging on about the identical subject (the monstrousness of Gordon Brown) in the identical tone (visceral personal hatred disguised in a transparent, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger gown).

Charles Clarke's latest assault is a typically muddled affair, and when he gets it right it is in stating the bleedin' obvious. Everyone agrees that Labour is heading inexorably towards a disaster on the scale of the 1997 Tories (an electoral cataclysm John Major achieved not with the help of a recession, by the way, but in stoic defiance of a very benign economy), and the only scenarios I can imagine that would threaten the inevitability of this are: a) a YouTube film of David Cameron's face, slathered in white powder, emerging from the Frank Bough Memorial PVC Hood at a Max Mosley fancy dress ball; and b) an eve-of-election terrorist strike so atrocious that the electorate is traumatised into holding its nose against the scent of carbolic soap and clinging grimly on to nurse.

But what of the Hail Mary Pass, any surviving Gordon fans might ask of the last second, touch down-producing 60- yard throw with which quarterbacks occasionally turn defeat into victory? John McCain has just thrown one in the fecund form of Sarah Palin, and although it's too early to tell whether it will reach the wide receiver, it seems at least to have given him an outside chance. Why couldn't Gordon conjure up a stunning game-changer of his own?

The answer to that barely needs stating. McCain is a gambler, a proper, crazy, self-destructive gambler known for bringing the recklessness with which he picks a running mate to the craps table, who'd have called a general election last autumn in half the time it takes to boil a caribou hot dog. Of Gordon's ninnyish terror of rolling the dice, enough and more has been written.

So to Charlie we say: duuurrrgh! Of course Gordon is leading his somnambulists to "utter destruction". Of course he should be replaced yesterday at the latest. Of course anyone – Miliband, Johnson, Straw, Jon Cruddas, Kerry Katona, the late Arthur Mullard; even Charles Clarke – would limit the scale of defeat. This much we know.

The mystery is why enough doubt about all this persists for Charles to feel obliged to launch yet another Exocet? Why are his colleagues so loath to act when any replacement PM has zero chance of doing worse than Gordon, and a good chance of restricting the Tories to a majority that could potentially be reversed after a single election cycle, rather than two or three. This will change if and when Labour loses the by-election in Gordon's Fife backyard, but today he is odds against going quickly, and the germ of an explanation for this lies just beneath the surface of the New Statesman article from which "Charlie Says ... Shoot Gordon NOW!!!" is extracted as a bullet point.

This piece of prose is as sparkling a paradigm of unknowing self-destructiveness as you could wish to read. Intended as a paean to Gordon's predecessor, Charlie's demolition of Tony Blair and "Blairism" is as brutal as it's unwitting. Under the paragraph header "Central Achievement", commencing: "We should recognise that Tony Blair was an outstanding Labour Prime Minister", he dwells on how Mr Blair cleaved to the US "even when George W Bush demonstrated crippling incompetence or opposed British policy" as though this act of treason is something to celebrate. He lauds economic policy under the Blair-Brown axis as if none of it has any bearing on the present nightmare so thoughtfully spelt out to us by Alastair Darling. He concludes with "there is no coherent Blairite ideology", as though this too is cause to hunt out the bunting.

There was no coherent Blairite ideology because ideology was the last thing on their minds when Blair, Brown, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and the rest of that tiny cabal – Charles hovering on the outskirts like the good little Kinnockite he was – adroitly hijacked a political movement. "New Labour" was never more than a device to enable the winning and retention of power, purely for the joy of having power. Any individualism these professional paranoiacs believed threatened electoral success was crushed as lethally as any perceived challenge to the uniqueness of Mr Blair's popularity. Mo Mowlam's career effectively ended the moment the 1998 conference gave her an unscheduled standing ovation.

So once the support of a foreign power in defiance of our national interests had ended Mr Blair's reign as undisputed electoral champion, what remained was a void. No ideology, energy, no passion, no fresh thinking... nothing but the same tired old management-speak mantras, a cabinet of pygmies with not the vaguest political philosophies of their own, and a parliamentary party too conditioned by terror by pager, too instutionalised by all that sullen trooping through the government lobbies, too cowed from all the years of being smacked around for daring to disagree with the likes of Charlie Clarke to assert themselves even in the cause of averting catastrophe.

All it would take to remove Gordon now is a delegation of six cabinet ministers, or four if they were the right quartet. "You go or we go" is all they need say. Five words, and Sarah would be on to Pickfords within the hour. Five syllables to save, 60, 100, 150 seats. It isn't cojones that are required here, merely the human instinct for survival. But even that has been squashed out of them by a decade of bartering their political souls for chauffered Rovers and the run of John Lewis white electricals.

Perhaps that instinct will revive, and the prospect of having to find proper work will reactivate the dormant volcano of self-interest just in time. If not Charles Clarke has certainly had it in Norwich South. Still, he'll be alright, this jug-eared, claret-soaked Monkhouse du jour, now that he's well on the road to becoming quite the national treasure. Even if his consultancy with a plush firm of London solicitors went with his capacious East Anglian seat, there's always a fresh start as cheeky chappie presenter of All New Celebrity Squares, or Charlie Says... Opportunity Knocks!