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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game