Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More from the Nasty Party

The sustained Tory programme of character-assassination-cum-amateur-psychoanalysis continues apace.

This time it’s Michael Gove who’s giving us his insights into Gordon Brown’s tortured psyche:

He had to recognise the new individualism which social change had brought about - although in his heart he could not reconcile himself to it. And he has had to accept that the attachments which stir British hearts are not those which once stirred his - and it leaves an aching emptiness inside.

Because acquiring power has involved a sacrifice of so much, in terms of youthful idealism, the surrender of any power is an acutely painful exercise to contemplate.

I suppose it’s an intellectual notch or two up from calling Brown “autistic”, but just as contemptibly personal. And particularly hypocritical, as Gove goes on to say:

In public debate [Labour] choose not to offer hope, but simply go on the attack. Instead of introducing a new and more plural style of Government they have tried to resurrect an old politics of division, denigration and distortion.

(For a great dissection of the flaws in Gove’s speech, see Hopi Sen.
[Update: And Tom Hamilton.])


Anonymous said...

Character assassination is a dangerous game for a man like Michael Gove who is a dead ringer for Dark Helmet as played by Rick Moranis in Spaceballs the Movie

Cassilis said...

Almost didn't respond because (1) the 'anonymous' comment made me laugh so much and (2) because me defending the Tories and you attacking them is tired but I couldn't resist.

As I said over a Tom H's place I agree this is more psychological critique than policy discussion but it's interesting that even among Brown supporters nobody's attempted any serious refutation of it.

Gove's analysis doesn't stand alone as some left-field take on Brown's personality with no precedent or evidence for what he suggests - it chimes with almost everything that's been written about Brown for the last decade by both those who like and dislike him.

Tom Freeman said...

Yes, I’d never seen the resemblance before but now it’s clear as day!

Liam, I don’t really have much to add to what Tom H said over at his blog. I think all the ‘refutation’ that’s really merited is to point out the sheer flimsiness of Gove’s case.

Of course Brown has long been very driven and very self-confident, and of course he’s changed his policies very substantially since the 1970s. But why, exactly, do changes of mind in such a person have to be accompanied by enduring inner torment? Why does such a journey have to be a matter of reluctant expedient rather than a genuine process of change?

Has Brown been making economic policy for the last decade while secretly pining for the manifesto he entered parliament on in 1983? Does he look back on his younger self with aching emptiness or the more usual mild amusement? Please, we’re above this sort of rubbish.

(What of John Reid? He’s equally sure of himself and has moved from the CPGB to somewhere right of Brown. But, of course, there’s no pre-existing body of slurs on Reid’s mental state that one could slot that into.)

Now, I’ll also agree with you that Brown’s politics has changed more than Cameron’s in their adult lives. Cameron’s change, however, has been more sudden and more recent: if either of their current positions isn’t heartfelt, I’d say there’s a stronger case for it being Cameron’s.

I just think that Gove’s approach here is one of the worst examples of low, snide politicking that I’ve seen in some time – all the worse for being dressed up as a dispassionate intellectual analysis.

Cassilis said...

We'll agree to disagree Tom - quick final observation though.

Gove's piece isn't some random left-field view from out of nowhere - it chimes more or less perfectly with the prevailing narrative on Brown's character as depicted by almost every major political commentator and even the largely sympathetic biogs I've read.

I suppose you could make a case that Gove, Rawnlsey, Jenkins, Toynbee, Hattersley, Lawson (Neal), Campbell et al and most of the commentariat have this wrong and your good self, Hopi and Tom H have it right but it doesn't seem that credible to me...

Tom Freeman said...

We will have to agree to disagree - but I do want to be clear on one thing.

There's certainly a media consensus (for whatever that may be worth) that Brown is very driven and very self-confident. Those are useful traits in politics but can sometimes trap their bearers in needless mistakes (qv Blair and Thatcher).

To my knowledge, though, it's only Gove (and you) arguing that this becomes pathological control-freakery because Brown's journey from far left to centre-left between his 20s and his 40s was an uncommonly painful and dishonest process of self-denial. I don't see anything to support that. (Brown was a keen moderniser under Kinnock and Smith.)