Matthew Norman: Soon, Gordon, the torment will be over

The Prime Minister has been as complex and compelling a psychological study as any politician in my lifetime

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Wouldn't Donald Rumsfeld love these closing hours? The great philosopher-poet of war crimes might even be tempted to rewrite his most celebrated free verse ode. Today, there are not only many things we know we don't know (the election result being one minor example), and an axiomatically unknown number of things we don't know we don't know. There are also things we think we know we know, but aren't at all sure.

I think I know, for example, that David Cameron has been rehearsing for Friday by studying John Major's re-election in 1995. Losing the votes of a third of his MPs against as flaky a challenger as John Redwood was a blatant catastrophe for Major. Yet the millisecond the result was announced, his loyalists invaded College Green in battle formation to celebrate a definitive triumph. An ovine political media followed, bleating this cobblers as fact, and that was that.

This, I reckon, is Cameron's non-majority strategy. If he wins most votes and seats, however short of the magic 325, he will send the Hagues and Goves, the Clarkes and Pickleses out, while everyone else is sucking their pencil in confusion, to declare that the Tories have a mandate to govern alone. In moments of absolute chaos, as with Bush v Gore in 2000, convention and psephology are trumped by effective public relations, and at that Mr Cameron is no fool. He understands that if he takes possession of it, and frames it as he wishes, he is nine tenths of the way through the door of No 10. But this is what I think I know I know, and the form book on hunches makes far from pretty reading.

The solitary known known, meanwhile, is that Gordon Brown is finished. He is gone even in the scenario whereby the Tories fall so far short of a majority that there appears a stronger mandate for a Lib-Lab coalition than a minority Cameron administration. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Mr Clegg leading such a coalition, since even Labour isn't daft enough to try to impose another leader yet to put himself before the electorate. But whoever such a PM might be, it cannot now be Gordon. He is that dead man walking.

The prospect of his going fills me with neither glee nor a sense of imminent regret. After all, though he will effectively be driven out of Downing Street in Mr Clegg's big yellow taxi, this is hardly a case of not knowing what you got till it's gone. With Gordon, in fact, we knew what we were getting before he arrived in No 10, even if dunces like me hoped that achieving his great ambition might affect him like waking up on Christmas Day did Ebenezer Scrooge. Alas, alas, and thrice alas, in the real world even ghosts lack transformative power.

Whether Gordon was the worst PM ever is another matter. Manish Sood, who with apologies to East Anglia seems abnormal even for Norfolk, believes so. I'm all for individualists in politics, and wish that peerless orator and warrior for Palestinian rights George Galloway the best of luck in Poplar and Limehouse. We sorely need George's intellect and forensic brilliance in the Commons, as we need the detached integrity of the former NHS consultant Richard Taylor and the passionate advocacy of Green leader Caroline Lucas.

We perhaps don't need MPs quite as maverick as Mr Sood, even if the point he makes is a populist one. Me, I think calling Gordon the worst ever is a slur over which, were our libel laws a crucial fraction insane, Anthony Eden's estate might wish to sue. But it's a mighty close call.

Yet being an appalling PM doesn't make Gordon a small one. Far from it, this is the largest politician we've known since Mrs Thatcher – a man who'd have stood tall in any age but stands out as a Titan in this one. The fact that his role model is Prometheus, with his liver devoured daily, highlights his extraordinary talents both for provoking sadistic attack and for futile regeneration after it.

His resilience has been wondrous to behold these recent weeks, and if it doesn't make you warm to him, it must instill ungrudging respect. For him to be coming down this final furlong like an express train now, albeit from 40 lengths off the pace, bankrupts belief. Even at his debating worst, when the rictus drowned out an effective closing speech, he was visibly a Gulliver among Lilliputians.

Where Mr Tony Blair's departure left no emotional footprint, because he was that ghostly presence of Robert Harris's clever depiction, Gordon's will be deeply felt. In a way never achieved by his spectral predecessor, he moulded Britain for 13 years, as Thatcher did for 11. As with her, the economic verities he has created, however false, will long survive him. Not even a Tory government will dare be callous and brutal about welfare for at least a generation.

But it is less for his many failures or the one grand success (helping bring under control the economic inferno he helped to set) that we will remember him than for himself. He has been as complex and compelling a psychological study as any politician in my lifetime. Every inch of the road private tragedy and public farce have linked arms around him, and so did it end with that defining shot of him sat in that unmanned BBC studio with his head behind his hands. As so often with Gordon, the laughter was tinged with sympathy, and the pity suffused in mirth. If the god returned to Olympus and decided to create a new Muse for Tragicomedy, Gordoniope would be yelling economic advice down at Mr Papandreou from beneath a laurel wreath by Saturday lunch.

Both the hilarity and the horror come from the same colossal internal gulf – the one between the heroic version of himself he carries in his head, and the grubby reality that his altruistic instincts were powerless to fight off personal ambition. The same was true, his defenders could argue, of Mr Blair. The difference is that Gordon never stopped staring into that chasm, and it tortured him. All the while his dead father, that idealised memory of quiet Christian decency to whom he instinctively appealed whenever caught lying or betraying a principle, hovered above like an ectoplasmic rebuke.

Had that spirit of sermons past been able to change his son's nature, Gordon would have been a Dickensian character, an emblem of redemption. That the Rev Brown couldn't do that made Gordon a classically Shakesperean figure, tormented horribly by the vision of his flaws and his impotence to slip their shackles.

And now the end is near. There is no question he did it his way, even if that was anything but the way he wished to do it. The world will quickly move on, and briefly feel fresher for his going. But we won't quickly forget Gordon Brown or escape the shadow he has cast, and we won't come upon a figure of his size again for a very long time.

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