Monday, December 03, 2007
Loyal readers of Thought Experiments will know that I saw it coming. Gordon Brown, I kept saying, is a Bad Thing. As, in power, his shortcomings became apparent, I noted how his supporters remained in denial. Everybody had gone into counselling mode - 'Look, Gordon, this is what you must do to get over this.' This phase persists but is now rapidly being superseded by the 'face it, the guy's a write-off' posture. People are beginning to think about Brown in the past tense and columnists who normally hedge their bets are simply tearing chunks out of the man - see Matthew d'Ancona and Andrew Rawnsley. The Rawnsley revelation about a Brown-Blair meeting is downright disturbing. In one version Brown stormed out saying, 'I'll get you over the peerages.' Blair was so shocked by his behaviour that he informed Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary - whether to get it on the record or to beef up his own security and move his family to a secure location is not clear. But still there are people who persist in believing Brown can be remade into the man they thought he was. For these people I offer a brief lesson in political science. Most humans have spent their lives in political systems like that of Sudan or Syria - corrupt, tribal but, with luck, sufficiently incompetent to allow people to construct tolerable lives, though always at risk of the violent deaths of themselves and their families. Occasional outbreaks of a more civilised way of life - like ours now - are rare and cherishable. Such idylls may appear to have some rational ideological content, like the foundational narrative of the US, but, in truth, they are the product of luck combined with the insights of a few good people. (Whether artists of genius are also required is an open question, though I hope so.) These people do not come up with theories, ideas or initiatives, they do not suffer from the illusion that they can improve things even further with bright ideas. They simply take the view that the important things is not to make matters worse - in a civilised society the downside is always a much greater risk than the upside because the downside is the default condition, the human norm. Modern politics requires that such people pretend to have bright ideas - 'I won't make things worse,' is not much of a slogan, though I'd vote for it. The important thing is that, once in power, they do as little as possible. Brown is not one of these people. He believes in bright ideas cooked up in rooms with his Little Sods. His supporters, meanwhile, persist in telling him to do more, in spite of the clear evidence that the more he does the worse he gets. He is, in short, dangerous, but, happily, he'll never now be elected.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 8:12 am