Matthew Norman: Who says there's no use for Gordon?

The PM has turned into a human landfill site for his party's toxic perceptions

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Tomorrow week sees the Prime Minister's birthday, and the thoughts turn to the conundrum of what to give the man who has nothing but grief. As we weigh up the trusty Luger against an "I saved the world and all I got..." lousy T-shirt, others jump the gun, deciding that the perfect early gift for Gordon Brown's 58th is even more grief. Sir James Crosby's retirement as banking watchdog, with such decent haste, leaves the PM looking more a pedigree chump than ever, while Bank of England Guv'nor Mervyn King chips in his forecast of a grotesque four per cent economic contraction by the summer.

Nikolas Sarkozy has issued a mischievous non-apology apology for his scything attack on the VAT reduction (a unilateral move from Mr Coordinated Global Strategy that has also infuriated the Germans), archly claiming that it was "taken out of context". Even the Italians are cross, their CBI equivalent lacerating him for the protectionist cobblers about "British jobs for British workers" and the subsequent demi-capitulation to the wildcat strikers of Lincolnshire.

Chuck in Ed Balls's foray into the Book of Revelations, Jacqui Smith's state-sponsored banditry, shocking unemployment figures, and so on (oh for more space), and the instinctive question is this: can it get any worse for Gordon? Of course, that's also the reflex response to each new apocalyptic warning on this economic meltdown, and invariably a far more depressing report pops along within hours.

The plain answer is that it can and will get much worse for Gordon, the template being Enva Hoxa's New Year's Eve address of 1969. "This year will be harder than last year," Albania's Mrs Mopp told his people. "On the other hand, it will be easier than next year." Substitute month, or even week, and there you have Gordon's life.

He could try adopting the Albanian dictator's brutal candour. "Now, you know my mantra about Britain being uniquely well placed to withstand the global downturn? Well, I'm grateful to the IMF for clearing up the confusion, but it seems I misread the one wee word, What I meant to say was 'uniquely ill placed." But that wouldn't do him a lot of good.

Then again, that's not to say he isn't doomed if he carries on lying to us. The autumnal dead cat bounce is over, never to be repeated, and only one compelling reason for Labour to keep him survives. It isn't that he has any solution to this crisis. No one does, possibly because there isn't one. Nor does he retain any public confidence. The punters, having given him that second glance, have decided that his Chancellorship explains why we're so much more screwed than the French and Germans, who quaintly make things (other than arms) other countries want, and whose finance ministers didn't stoke false booms by encouraging personal debt and superheating the property market. It isn't even that it's too late for a change. John Major had little longer in No 10 than remains to Labour now and won in 1992. The novelty and wry charm of Alan Johnson would save a good few marginals.

The solitary point to Gordon Brown now, to his party at least, is in the role of the bank – mythical as yet, but we live in hope – created to soak up all the rancid debt poisoning the system, and thus ensure the survival of other banks. He is a human landfill site for the toxic perceptions of a party so certain to lose, regardless of its leader, that it makes sense to lose under Gordon and let the next one take on a fractious and demoralised Opposition clean of the stains.

And they will be noxious, the stains, beyond belief. As unemployment races towards three million and house repossessions soar in its slipstream, as the failure of flooding the system with treasury notes leaves no fiscal lever left to pull, and as the growth in poverty is matched by the surge in burglary and violent crime, the PM will become an object of hatred on a level to imbue Mrs Thatcher's progress through the Poll Tax fiasco with the serenely triumphalist aura of Elizabeth I walking among her subjects the day after Drake defeated the Spanish Armada.

Much as we all love doling out blame, by no means is it entirely his fault. Although it was immoral that teachers couldn't afford to live within 20 miles of their schools while adolescent derivative traders were splashing bonus cash on Holland Park villas, no one properly foresaw the ensuing cataclysm. No Chancellor in history would have irritated the electorate by regulating against profligacy when the economic winds felt so benign.

There's a lot of talk about the South Sea Bubble from which Robert Walpole, who muttered the odd half hearted doubt, emerged with a stellar reputation for financial prescience. Yet Walpole would have been bankrupted himself but for a postal delay preventing his share application arriving before the bubble burst.

The dividing line between genius and the dunce cap can be drawn far more by luck in timing than sound judgment. Had Mr Tony Blair had the balls to sack Gordon when he wanted do, he might have stayed in power long enough to take the rap for this economic collapse himself, leaving Bonnie Prince Gordon to sail back from back bench exile and claim the crown – a true Old Labour Restoration – untainted by the recklessness that clings to him now.

By purest accident of timing, Mr Blair swans around taking the piss more than making the peace, earning fortunes from – among other delectable sources – investment banks, and being greeted by Barack Obama with an embrace that will have been a stab wound to his successor's heart.

In that heart, Gordon must know that "an end to boom and bust" is already set in stone as the headline to his obituary. And yet, and yet... no one ever looked smart by underestimating the politicial capacity for self-delusion. So who knows, with his chairmanship of the G20 conference ("the new Breton Woods") approaching in April, maybe he genuinely still regards himself as the saviour of a world economy in which Britain stands as a beacon of resilience. Given the reality of where he is right now, let alone where he is heading, he is welcome to whatever refuge his fantasy life can offer.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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