Matthew Norman: I fear even Obama can't save Brown

It's hard to imagine what the PM can tell Congress that won't sound absurd
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The Independent Online

As not quite everybody 's favourite bluestocking correctly (what else?) informed Paxo in Monday's University Challenge, when reversed the name of the 44th President is the Latin for "I will love". That's "amabo" for you ignorami out there, future first person singular of "amo". The question doubtless obsessing the bunker-dwellers at No 10 today is whether Mr Obama will indeed love Gordon Brown when he takes his splendiferous "Mundum Servabo" tour ("I shall save the world"; as hurriedly amended from the original "Mundum Servavi", "I have saved the world") to Washington next week.

The answer, as Gail Trimble would be the first to state, is that Mr Obama will certainly love Gordon Brown, or at least pretend to. A thousand flashbulbs will record the handshake, arm-clasping and beamish grins – the one so engagingly natural, the other suggesting an obsolete robot with trapped wind – when the two meet. All the usual cobblers about the special relationship, or "special partnership" as we must now learn to call it, will be trotted out.

The Prez will shower on Gordon the warmth due him for pledging more British troops for Afghanistan, and may even be a touch faux deferential towards the older man, something he always does beautifully. Love will be all around, and Gordon will feel it in his fingers, not to mention his toes. So much for the starter for 10. It's the bonus questions that look tricky.

Will all the love do anything to save our self-styled Saviour from the electoral Armageddon towards which he is headed ? What can Gordon possibly tell the joint session of Congress a week today about how to rescue the global economy, when he still hasn't told us diddly? And even if he does have a miracle up his sleeve, will his audience take a blind bit of notice, or is this another of those charades designed solely to keep a pliant client kingdom sweet?

Even Gail might struggle with that lot, but before I make a wild stab at answering them myself, a brief lurch into the bleeding obvious. Arranging this visit at all is a major triumph for a man who could use one of those. God alone knows what frenzied sycophancy was unleashed on the West Wing to secure it, but to beat Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy in the race to pay homage to is quite an achievement.

Admittedly the Japanese PM Mr Aso (and who knew the Mind Your Language scriptwriters had progressed to naming international statesmen?) was the first current leader to kiss the ring. But there is no shame in being outsprinted to Washington by the world's second largest economy, with something to teach us about a 15-year depression barely leavened an iota by flooding the banks with the free money (Buzzzz. "Corpus Christi, Trimble" "Quantitative easing?")

As for that speech to both houses of Congress, he may not be the first person from Downing Street to get the gig, but it is a singular honour whether or not it helps secure him a future. Besides, what a nice change to be able to address two houses without having to hear Jacqui Smith plap out her odiously legalistic defence. So all in all, a rousing hats off to the old boy for this victory. Having said all that, I'd bet our unhappily non-tracker mortgage it proves entirely Pyrrhic in domestic political terms.

However passionate our crush on Obama, there is no guarantee that his stardust will rub off on Gordon. More likely is the reverse... that the photogenic contrast between Yesterday's Man and The Master of Tomorrow will echo the one between Obama and John McCain during the presidential debates, and makes our lad look more fatigued, sallow, waxen and cadaverous than ever.

Meanwhile, apart from the ritualistic compliments he will pay and professions of deathless loyalty he will pledge, it's hard to imagine what he could tell Congress that won't sound absurd and vainglorious on this side of the ocean.

"Mr President, Madam Speaker, members of Congress, here in Washington, of all places, I cannot tell a lie," he might intone. "I reserve those for my people back home, whom I keep reminding that thanks to me Britain is uniquely well placed to withstand the global downturn. In all truth, then, I'd like to congratulate the President on his commitment to halving the US deficit. I'm taking a marginally different approach myself, by doubling ours every five minutes, but hey, what's a tiny difference of opinion between special partners? The fact, my friends, is that Britain is done for. Utterly, utterly ruined. Heeeeeeellllppp!

Even if he has a more nuanced script, the timing is awful. He will be posing before the planet as its top ranked proponent of fiscal responsibility just as Rip Van Winkle Britain awakes to the realisation that his recklessness at the Treasury has deepened the slump, and made the apocalypse of which we all live in mortal terror that much more likely. If he isn't careful, he could look delusional at best, and a great fat hypocrite at worst. And even if he is, all the clapping and cheering will ring dangerously hollow in British ears.

So we mustn't be fooled by all the grandeur and imperial flummery, let alone the mandatory standing ovations. Tony Blair had about 372 of those, when he so presciently reassured Congress that history would judge the Iraq escapade a just and noble cause. The next day David Kelly killed himself.

Let's wish Gordon well as he packs his suitcase, and without sarcasm. The dreadful news of yesterday reminds us that he too has endured the ultimate tragedy, and born it with magnificent dignity, and that there is much to admire. No one should begrudge him the morale boost that this jolly will bring. But I'd guess it will be wretchedly short-lived, and that all the sonorous swanking on the grandest stage will backfire.

You can hardly fail to see why Mr Brown Goes To Washington looks like a masterstroke in Downing Street and beyond. But as someone who knew Latin almost as well as Gail Trimble so very nearly put it, beware the ideas of March. They can look extremely daft in April. Or even in March.