The two characters who have dominated British politics for over a decade were for a long time hard to fathom. But after the last year in particular, as the media have been unable to hide away their plots and coup attempts against each other any longer, the picture of what they are really like as people has become easier to read.
Gordon Brown has little or no self belief. See his original signature before he was coached. There was a ludicrously large G followed by almost an equally vast B, but ‘rown’ fell away into miniature insignificance.
Then think of his speech in Downing Street. Ludicrous repetition of the word ‘Change’ and a confidence that the programme he fronts up is for the good, but as soon as it was Gordon’s moment to speak about himself, he fell away into a miniature frightened Gordon who could only promise to ‘do his best’, stumbling on his words like a small boy addressing his Headmaster after a severe telling off. It was instructive that he needed to rest his confidence on his old school motto. Deep down under his bluff middle aged exterior,Gordon has no more belief in himself now than he did then. He’s still fighting that child-like battle for self-belief. He cannot win it – heaven only knows what traumas he must have suffered as a child – but the only way he can satisfy his craving is to get others to buckle to his superiority, and allow him to be in control so that he, not they, is giving out the pain.
Accordingly Brown surounds himself with servile ceatures who dare not speak until spoken to, who know that their position depends at all times on flattery, and deference to Gordon. Even dear old defecting Quentin Davies, who regularly slated Gordon Brown in an unusually personal way, seemed to know that his own need for recognition, now depended on handing Brown ludicrously over-generous praise for his past achievements. You are safe either if you believe Gordon Brown is a genius, or if you are good at pretending that you do. Celebrity in others is not to be acknowledged any more. There is now only one real celebrity. All others are poor imitations of the real thing.
The Queen he will bestow full respect to though, as she and he stand at the top of the hill. But EU meetings, other international organisations, heads of state, newspaper tycoons must all pay homage to the greatness of Gordon or feel the chill.
Blair was the exact opposite. He liked to rub along with Pop stars, Presidents, Popes, Comedians – in fact anyone other than the only celebrity who still stood one rank above him and Cherie, who his wife could not stand! The Queen steadfastly refused to call him Tony. It was ‘Prime MInister’ and ‘Mrs Blair’ to the end. Only she was able to stand clear of the sofaisation of all Blair’s relationships.
He was so cocky that he felt he could walk round any opponent whenever he chose. He couldn’t be arsed with delving into too much detail – just enough to be able to fend off questions, and no more. The hard longterm thinking had to be done by someone else. He liked informal environments where he could use his self confidence to see off any jibes and make others appear to be overly strident, serious or extreme. Even parliamentary Questions suited his style. As there is no time to go into detail, he could always paint a instant picture, which left the real story untold or sounding unlikely. The longtem didn’t matter. Only the instant, the moment. If Blair could look good now, he could always look good and keep in control. He only dallied with today’s situation and its perceptions. He knew that tomorrow everything would be different, and he could strike a different pose. He avoided anything too longterm most of the time. Obviously Iraq became a situation beyond his control, and somehow even though it was mostly a situation of his creation, he still managed to create distance between himself and the unfolding catastrophy.
His favourite ploy was positioning himself in the middle where he could play everyone else off – Mandelson against Brown, Campbell against Brown, Cherie against Brown. It worked for many years but Brown would never let go, and he wore down all these opponents that stood in his way. Finally Blair stood alone and Brown arranged the Watson coup attempt which manoevred Blair towards the exit. The Cash for Peerages investigation merely ensured Blair stuck to the terms of the deal this time.
Blair surrounded hmself with strong personalities, and let them run things around him – starting with Cherie, then Mandelson, Campbell, Brown and Prescott. For Blair everything ran around his image, which he loves more than life itself. Any tarnishing of it or criticism is so painful to him that he doesn’t even see that he might have failed. His narcissistic tendencies endured to the end, when Parliament was suckered into performing the final act of the Blair soap opera, where he, for the very last time was the only focus – not his cause, but he himself. His image was all. He knew as he sat down that the game was finally up, and his choking voice showed that losing the golden position of power was breaking his heart.
The legacy of his years will be debated forever. But ‘wasted opportunity’ will be one phrase that will be heard over and over again. Blair liked to leave all the thinking to others – Iraq was decided by Bush. he went along with that. The EU programme was worked out by Brussels and Merkel. He went along with that. Even the Irish peace process which he is claiming as his legacy, was started by Major. Blair’s only real legacy was Blair himself – the iconic image that he created and loved.
Brown wants to be different. He is different. But his flawed character, his desperate lack of self belief renders him a weak leader of others. In as much as Blair’s narcisiicism neutralised him as a successful Prime Minister, Brown’s character and his similar inability to look at events as they really are, will be equally poor in results. These two flawed characters found themselves at the centre, both equally incapable of achieving anything other than satisfying the needs of their defective personalities by clinging to power. We’ve suffered the first. Now we’ll have to endure the second.