The political new year begins. Much is promised for humiliation fans. The Prime Minister and his ultras continue to box in the Chancellor with their insulting and contemptuous demands. They are saying to the country that Brown can be trusted only if he does what Blair has been doing. Yes, only if he promises to do exactly what Blair would have done, will he be allowed to do anything at all. How it must infuriate that proud, brooding loner who is New Labour to his bleeding fingernails.
And if the Prime Minister does retire on his 10th anniversary, will things improve? For sketch writers? Immeasurably. For the country? We can't have everything. Brown's mental habits simply aren't prime ministerial. His seriousness, his devotion to detail, his lack of natural articulacy will bind him to the crushing wheel. He's never had to deal with so many continuously revolving problems, not in the full public glare. But prime ministers never do anything else.
Here are five reasons why Brown will be diminished by office.
1. His way with questions. He believes that the person who talks the most wins. He reacts to questions like a maniac. He hears the one word he wants to talk about and then he tells you everything he wants to say on the subject. "How will the new pipeline affect the price of oil?" provokes a tirade about British economic stability.
2. His mental state is revealed by his writings. The economic briefing paper he gave to the Parliamentary Labour Party was the most disgusting piece of prose of its time. It bore the same relation to reality as Letters to Penthouse bear to your love life. Everything prior to 1997 was a Thatcherite plot to destabilise the economy. Everything since has been steady and inevitable growth. This is clinical paranoia.
3. The "moral compass" he talks about spins wildly (as it would, set in an Iron Chancellor). Whichever way he faces is north. Gordon Brown invented New Labour spin. His first action as Chancellor was to change all the headings in the government accounts so we couldn't compare the details of last year's spending with this year's. And the triple counting of new spending; the relabelling of "spending" as "investment"; the attempts to Anglicise himself with his flags-in-gardens initiative; his claiming Adam Smith for himself. And his undertakings about borrowing balancing out over the "economic cycle" were the deepest structural drivel. He doesn't show us a political personality but a set of symptoms.
4. The public money spent on the failure of his initiatives is almost unimaginable. The billions wasted could have taken - who knows how much - 10p off the basic rate of tax. Corporation tax at 12p in the pound would have brought half the head offices in the world to London and raised tax revenues. He's tried to do too much; by doing less he could have given the money back so people could do it for themselves.
5. The net result of seven years of initiatives has been to reach deep into the privacy of family life. Not since the days of inquisitorial Catholic fathers taking door-to-door confessions have we had such supervision of individuals. And we're only halfway there.
All this has been achieved with him in the background. Heaven is at hand, for us who've been waiting so patiently for a Brown premiership!
Amis and his 'rudderless suspicions'
Martin Amis ("one of the world's great writers", the front page of The Observer said) has written a novel about the 9/11 terrorists. Amis is a famous phrase-maker but, nonetheless, critics have been able to agree by a significant margin that he wasn't entirely in favour of the attacks.
In his role as great writer, Amis, pictured, recently told us that America's problem was a "citizenry haunted by rudderless suspicions". I think we can all agree on that, at least. There are far too many rudderless suspicions in America. If only suspicions were ruddered properly, they'd be very much more effective.
A reliable ruddering system would allow suspicions to be steered to appropriate moorings and citizen-haunting could take place from the docks.
* Only after covering Parliament for three years did I become a Queen-loving monarchist. She has no great power but she means more than our secular rulers. Symbolism has come back into fashion - the world of celebrity is nothing but symbolism - and she does an awful lot of symbolising.
Several thousand of us were packed into Westminster Hall waiting for her to arrive. For three or four minutes nothing happened. No driving, optimistic music, no flashing lights, no glowing screens. We just sat and waited, like grown-ups. She was very affecting - and she wasn't even present.
I met her once, at a media reception. The smile was dazzling because she wasn't trying to persuade you of anything. When Tony Blair smiles you hope he isn't planning to eat you. And she's head of the armed forces. Warriors swear their loyalty to her, not to a gone-tomorrow prime minister. That may become important, in the years to come.Reuse content