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

Share
Related Topics

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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'