The mystery of Broon

Perceptive column by Polly Toynbee

Why is Brown on the slide? Why has that 12% lead he earned in the early months evaporated? Those were Labour voters expecting something better, looking for the mission and vision lacking in Blairism, looking for the change, change, change that Brown promised. The mystery of this premiership deepens with every day, perplexing some who thought they knew Brown best. Now he refutes any suggestion he has changed any Blairite “reform” one iota.

Most dismayed are those who toiled for him for 10 long years, drinking midnight toasts to the king over the water, plotting and obstructing, singing the old Gordon-is-my-darling songs, and telling any of us who would listen that when the bonnie prince sails home, the egregious sins of opportunistic unprincipled Blairism would be expunged. But now the prince is here, his leadership is a pale shadow of what they promised. Inept generalship looks in danger of leading the Labour clans towards their Culloden – and they can see it coming.

Here is the puzzle. Those who know him know Gordon Brown to be a man of sincere beliefs with a profound concern for the poor at home and abroad. There is nothing showy or sham about him. But, alas, a good man doesn’t necessarily make a good prime minister. So was it right when the Blair camp malevolently tarred him as “psychologically flawed”? Well, who isn’t? There’s no reason to think him any crazier than others with the vaulting ambition to reach No 10. Blair was considerably madder and badder by the time he left office – what with war, Catholic conversion and shameless plunder from fat directorships.

Gordon Brown is certainly the cleverest prime minister in living memory – but then intellectuals rarely make good leaders. His bookishness may account for his worst failings. He has studied every aspect of every dilemma, met every global expert, perused every research paper, communed with every contrary opinion. He knows there is rarely one simple answer and the world is made of nuanced grey areas. But prime ministers have to make black and white choices every day. When he doesn’t, he increasingly ends up with the worst of all worlds, pleasing no one…