Matthew Norman: The brooding, tortured soul of Gordon Brown

He retains his gift, as in the election that never was, for plucking defeat from the oesophagus of victory

Share
Related Topics

On a Leveson Monday that should have been dominated by the aftermath of a medical diagnosis, but wasn't, the twin mantras of TV drama's greatest diagnostician came flooding to mind. It seems everybody lies, as Hugh Laurie's Gregory House MD says of a patient at least once an episode, and nobody changes.

Gordon Brown certainly hasn't changed. His session with Robert Jay QC revealed that he remains the most incompetent dissembler in Britain, which is one of the less unendearing things about him. Most top-rank politicians master the art of lying imperceptibly, as the glib fluency of George Osborne's testimony suggested. As for another recent witness, a certain Mr Tony Blair would beat the polygraph every time with the knickerless insouciance of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Gordon might well send the needle off the scale and you wouldn't even need the electrodes. The old brute telegraphs his renditions of the facts with such clunking blatancy that they feel less like wilful attempts to deceive than an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

His preferred method, often noted during his tenure as PM, is to introduce a whopper with a reference to his father, the presbyterian minister whose example he feels such transparent shame at failing to match. By that analysis, in trotting out the paternal paean, he ridiculed his denial of making that declaration-of-war phonecall to Rupert Murdoch. The other subconscious admission to dissembling was familiar from poker rather than pop psychology. When denying all knowledge of his aides briefing against Mr Blair, his left hand extended along the table. Pushing your chips in with the weaker hand is a classic poker tell that you're bluffing, though, in this case, one needed no visual confirmation. As futility goes, here, seemingly, was the Leveson equivalent of the philanderer in the Shaggy song insisting to the girlfriend who finds him in flagrante with the next door neighbour: "It wasn't me."

Monday should have been a triumphant day for Gordon as he avenged himself on The Sun, Rebekah Brooks and Murdoch for revealing his baby's diagnosis of cystic fibrosis in what he convincingly claimed was without his and Sarah's permission. The paper's subsequent report, which insisted that "NHS Fife said yesterday there was 'no inappropriate access' to Fraser's medical records", reminds us that it, too, apparently, remains unashamed to distort the truth, in its owner's image. Contrast that with this quote in its sister title The Times, from the chief executive of NHS Fife: "We now accept that it is highly likely that, sometime in 2006, a member of staff in NHS Fife spoke, without authorisation, about the medical condition of Mr Brown's son, Fraser."

Yet no one was talking yesterday about this wickedly callous invasion of the Brown's privacy at a doubly horrific moment for parents who had already buried a newborn daughter, or even about how utterly laughable Mr Osborne's claim to have closely interrogated Andy Coulson about phone-hacking appeared. All the attention was on Gordon's sub-Comical Ali drivel, thereby illustrating another way in which he is unchanged. He retains that uncanny gift, as pioneered with the 2007 election that never was, for plucking defeat from the oesophagus of victory.

Reviewing his Leveson turn, I feel a resurgence of the old poignancy about someone who might – with a less tortured, self-flagellating personality, and had events taken a different course – have been a great man. Object of scorn and loathing though he is, some regard him as precisely that. He isn't alone in thinking he saved the world from financial apocalypse in 2008. The American Nobel economics laureate Paul Krugman, whose withering dismissal of the austerity fetish championed by Mr Osborne as suicidal lunacy is rapidly becoming the global consensus, suspects he saved the world, too.

The fatal problem with judging bold preemptive action is the impossibility of knowing how things would have panned out in its absence, which is why politicians prefer the ostrich position. The Doctor Who episode "Turn Left" dwells on the horror that would have consumed Earth had the Doctor been killed, but in the real world we have no access to alternate timelines. Even so, it is a safe bet that had Gordon not set an example to dithering world leaders by recapitalising the banks and plumping decisively for fiscal stimulus, Armageddon would have arrived years ago. If his previous relaxation of fiscal discipline and failure to regulate the banks helped set the inferno, he was quite the Red Adair once it was lit.

Although he currently gets no more credit for that than for keeping Britain out of the euro, history may well come to regard him as an economic Churchill... as inspired a wartime leader, in other words, as he was abysmal in (comparative) peacetime. In the midst of this endless, apparently doomed rearguard to save the southern European eurozone countries, catastrophe seems close at hand again. Looking at the Chancellor and his predecessor but one on Tuesday, listening to the lies and their contrasting styles of telling them, it was the Caliban who invokes his father when shamed by his own reflection, however lavishly flawed, who seemed infinitely the larger and more trustworthy figure. Come on now, regardless of personal taste, be honest. Given the option between Osborne and Brown at the helm during economic warfare, which would you choose?

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory