Sarah Sands: Heathcliff is at his best when the wind is howling

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has been my persistent belief, backed by empirical evidence, that Gordon Brown is responsible for the wild, wet weather we have been experiencing since he came to power. Last week, he more or less admitted that he is the storm incarnate; for he is Heathcliff.

The Prime Minister's bantering acceptance in a New Statesman interview that he resembles one of the most savage men in literature, albeit an "older, wiser" version, has been derided by politicians.

David Cameron and George Osborne clearly hope the reference will stick. Chris Grayling called Brown "out of touch and deluded". Political researchers thumbed the novel for many references to lunacy and sadism. Why, Heathcliff's own wife said of him: "Is Mr Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?" What a gift to the opposition!

I am not so sure. Heathcliff was foul to his wife and his son. Brown's hopeful redemptive reference to an "older, wiser" man is a misreading of the character. He gets loonier. And yet, Heathcliff is also one of the most romantic figures ever created. For it is love that has made him mad....

Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre remain the most popular classic books in libraries. In an age of "issues around commitment", men who exhibit souls in flames are a rare and attractive commodity.

The Brontë romantic heroes do not offer easygoing, witty, Etonian charm. Heathcliff and Mr Rochester are dark and profound and sincere. Life has gone badly for them and they expect the worst. But the women who reach the hearts of these wounded beasts find them liquid jelly. This is what romance is made of.

The trouble with Gordon Brown is that he tried to wander off the moor into normal society. Of course, he was mocked and kicked. He was the Liverpool orphan all over again. The force of nature who replaced Blair could not defend himself.

His handshakes were all wrong, he became accident-prone and disorientated. A palace flunky directed him in the opposite direction at the state banquet for the French President. As Brown stumbled to find his place, the Queen asked dryly if her Prime Minister "was lorst".

The cocky Liberal Democrat Vincent Cable described Brown as Mr Bean. Nothing could revive Brown's political fortunes.

Except perhaps a chance reply to a question by a New Statesman journalist.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but isn't the proprietor of the New Statesman, Geoffrey Robinson, a Labour loyalist and a friend to Gordon Brown? Why would he stitch up the Prime Minister?

On the contrary, this was an inspired exchange. Gordon Brown reminded women voters why they used to like him. The flames of that stale passion roared back into life.

Political commentary a year ago was full of relationship metaphors. Tony Blair was the smooth talker who betrayed his partner. Gordon Brown – not flash, just Gordon – was the reliable one. He was Colin Firth to Blair's Hugh Grant. He was Mr Rochester. He was the undeclared Heathcliff.

We have felt the lashing of economic ruin and social calamity, but Heathcliff was never going to give us a smooth passage. Material prosperity means little to him.

He is at his best when the wind is howling and the windows rattling and we are wondering if we will all be murdered in our beds.

When Brown warned recently that rough times demanded his kind of leadership, he only spoke the truth.

He may be the cause, but he is also the solution. Heathcliff is with us until the blasted end and beyond.

Sarah Sands is editor-in-chief of British 'Reader's Digest'