Leading article: Authority cannot be rebuilt in a day

Share

So this is the fightback. At noon yesterday a visibly chastened Gordon Brown offered himself up to the media he had declined to meet on Saturday – and tried to sell them the same old story about his election decision not being influenced by the polls. He then went to the Commons to impart the good news that the British troop presence in Iraq could be halved next spring, only to find himself forced to revisit the first principles of the invasion, including his own complicity as a senior member of the Cabinet.

The Downing Street press conference was lacklustre. Mr Brown knew it; the assembled reporters knew it. The Prime Minister tried to look stoical, as though he knew this was an ordeal he had to suffer, having largely precipitated it himself. His answers were from the rote-learning school of politics. He gave not an inch on the reason why he had decided against an election. The incredulous reception far exceeded standard journalistic scepticism.

If Mr Brown had hoped that his Commons statement on Iraq could save the day, he was sorely – and almost embarrassingly – mistaken. The mood of MPs was, if anything, more sceptical even than that of the journalists. At times it bordered on contempt. By making Iraq the subject of his first policy statement of the new Parliamentary term, the Prime Minister merely reminded MPs of perhaps his greatest self-inflicted wound: the day-trip to Baghdad and Basra in the middle of the Conservative Party conference, where he had made an announcement about troop cuts that turned out to be far less than they seemed.

Clearly scenting his advantage, the Conservative leader in his response was unforgiving. He began by drawing attention to Mr Brown's earlier undertaking to make such announcements in the first instance to Parliament. He went on to decry the use of British troops for party political purposes. The Prime Minister was already on the defensive well before he was buffeted by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Charles Kennedy (among others) about his part in Britain's march to war. Tellingly, perhaps, the longer his torment went on, the more his replies lapsed into the familiar cadences of Blair-speak – a dialect to which we had joyfully bidden good riddance after the plain-speaking Scot entered Number 10.

It is hard now to imagine how Mr Brown's Commons statement might have been received had he not made that ill-timed and ill-conceived announcement in Iraq; had the Conservative Party not trumped Labour with its coup on Inheritance tax; had Mr Cameron not delivered his tour de force without autocue; had the Tories not been scared into unity by an election threat. But it is worth considering, all the same. If Mr Brown had stood up in Parliament yesterday as he appeared through the summer, as the solid, responsible son of the manse, his statement might have been hailed for what it probably was: a radical shift from Mr Blair's policy in Iraq and the announcement of phase one of Britain's withdrawal from Iraq.

As it was, Mr Brown failed to convince. He did not even offer the modicum of moral decency we had hoped for on the treatment of Iraqi interpreters and others who have thrown in their lot with British troops. The offer of financial help to go into business or resettle outside Iraq – but preferably not, the message came over loud and clear, in Britain – was cautious meanness at its worst. We trust that this will not be the last word.

Yesterday was not quite Mr Brown's very own Black Monday. Black Saturday and Sunday had made it hard for his plight to worsen. It was rather an illustration in two chapters of the damage already done – and the scale of the task that lies ahead if he is to repair it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing / Sales Co-ordinator - OTE £25,000+

£10000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of staffing and r...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen Porter

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court is seeking...

Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court i...

Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpdesk / 1st L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A memorial to the1982 war between Great Britain and Argentina in Buenos Aires  

Argentina poses no military threat to the Malvinas Islands. So why is the UK ratcheting up tension?

Alicia Castro
 

Daily catch-up: religion, politics and roads named after dictators

John Rentoul
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?