Leading article: The Prime Minister must show us who he really is

Share
Related Topics

The Prime Minister did the rounds of the talk-shows yesterday in what was billed the start of his fight-back. It came across as more of a mea culpa. Gordon Brown accepted responsibility for Labour's abysmal showing in last week's local elections, he admitted making mistakes since becoming Prime Minister, and he came as near as he could, without co-pting the actual phrase, to saying that he felt the voters' pain. Mercifully, he had dropped the irritating morning-after line about his determination to "listen and lead".

The Sunday version of Mr Brown was in ruminative mood, as well he might have been, given the size of Labour's losses. But his briefing notes had clearly instructed him to accentuate the positive. "Of course, we can recover," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr, gravely. When he anticipated the obvious follow-up by adding "and I'll tell you how", this is arguably where a whole new set of problems began.

Oh, how eager he was to offer solutions, and how glibly inconsequential those remedies seemed. He promised "to sort out the immediate problem with the economy" – as if the merest flick of a former Chancellor's wand could spirit away the combined scourges of falling house prices, rising food and fuel costs, the mortgage famine, and the predicament of first-time buyers.

He also had a shot at the vision thing. We will show people, he said, "that we have the vision of the future that will carry this country optimistically in my view into its next phase". Even allowing for the fact that Mr Brown has never had his predecessor's gift for communicating with the voters, what on earth was the average Labour supporter to make of this? Or a genuine floating voter?

A silver tongue can give a politician a head start in today's media-driven politics, as Tony Blair and David Cameron would surely admit. An instinct for the voters' concerns is almost a prerequisite. But if these are not your strengths as a politician, there are other ways to be effective. As Chancellor, especially in his early years, Mr Brown demonstrated how expertise and a grasp of detail could convey their own message of competence. And, scripted though it may have been, his gruff non-Blair act in the eventful first weeks of his premiership allowed glimpses of what seemed to be the "real" Brown through.

That real Brown, solemn, serious, down-to-earth, family-first and unfussed about image, is what he has to return to. Without that, he will have the worst of both worlds: neither the trust-inspiring confidence to be himself, nor the presentational gifts to convince as someone else.

The 10p tax-rate debacle was the perfect example – which is why it struck so many chords. For a politician who had placed poverty reduction at the top of his agenda, it left awkward questions about Mr Brown's priorities. What was he? A Blairite for whom getting rich was glorious, or the original Brownite voters thought they knew? For the sake of 2p off the basic rate of tax, the political down-payment has been expensive.

It cannot be ruled out that the mood in the country, as shown by last week's elections, has effected one of those tidal turns that cannot be reversed. There is another possibility that, even if it can, Mr Brown lacks the capacity to do it. In either event, he has little to lose by going back to his own personal basics. He could do worse than sort out what he stands for, what he can realistically achieve in two years, and set about it with the dogged will that distinguished his approach in the past. Then, at least, he will have something worth bequeathing, even if is not the fourth consecutive Labour victory that would once have headed his wish-list.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Support - Helpdesk Analyst

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a customer focu...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Learning & Development Manager - North London - £53,000

£45000 - £53000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Learning & Develo...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - Magazines

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's largest regional newspaper pub...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A 'match' on Tinder  

Tinder may have inadvertently hit its self-destruct button by charging older users more

Nash Riggins
A Yorkshire Terrier waits to be judged during the Toy and Utility day of the Crufts dog show at the NEC in Birmingham  

There are no winners at Crufts. Dogs deserve better than to suffer and die for a 'beauty' pageant

Mimi Bekhechi
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn