Thursday, March 15, 2007

Self-confidence and team spirit

Roy Hattersley has advice for Gordon Brown:

“If Mr Brown tries to be somebody he is not, the result will be catastrophe for him and the Government. …
“The public is weary of artifice or, as it is now called, ‘spin’. The gap in the political market is for a leader who neither prevaricates nor dissembles. The real Gordon Brown can meet the crying need for probity as well as prudence. …
“Yet there are idiots about who are advising him to smile with a mechanical regularity, tell jokes and pose for humanising ‘photo opportunities’. …
“Why, when he is a first-rate Gordon Brown, should the Chancellor aspire to being a second-rate Tony Blair?”

This is true: Brown is cringingly bad at the touchy-feely stuff. If he works too hard to look fluffy, he’ll not only fail, but lose the credibility to do the more serious, substantial stuff that he’s good at. (And anyway, David Cameron is far more convincing as a second-rate Blair.)

I’m put in mind of a scene from The West Wing – it’s just before Bartlet (incumbent, economics background, intellectual heavyweight) has his TV debate with the Republican candidate (policy-light, casual manner, glib with the soundbites). The President’s advisers have been worried about how their man will come across.

“We were convinced by polling that said he was going to be seen as arrogant no matter what performance he gave in the debate. And then, that morning at ten past three, my phone rings, and it’s Toby Ziegler. He says, ‘Don't you get it? It's a gift that they're irreversibly convinced that he's arrogant 'cause now he can be.’ If your guy's seen that way, you might as well knock some bodies down with it.”

If Brown’s over-serious image is now set in stone, he may as well use it against the man who wants to “let sunshine win the day”, to govern by press release and to avoid giving offence. If Brown is stuck with that ‘big clunking fist’ (to go with the ‘brain the size of a planet’), then he might as well get the benefit of landing some smart, hard punches.

Gang culture
And another thing: Brown needs to make politics more of a team game. Lots of us have been exasperated by Blair’s ‘presidential’ style, and there are fears that Brown will be as bad if not worse. He needs to prove these people wrong by bringing Cabinet government back with a vengeance. Not just because it’ll disarm the ‘control freak’ charge, not just because it’ll be good for parliamentary party morale, and not just because it’s a good thing in itself.

For over a year the Tories have been defined almost entirely in terms of their leader. If Brown brings some of Labour’s bright young things to the fore, then Cameron will be obliged to wheel out the less reconstructed members of his front bench or else look like a one-man band.

And if people really are worried about aspects of Brown’s personal image, then he can use his colleagues to broaden Labour’s image rather than engaging in clumsy stunts himself. Blair’s never needed to look strong on the economy because he’s had Brown to do that for him. In turn, Brown doesn’t need to be photographed riding huskies when he has David Miliband at his side, being tough on climate change (as well as smoothly spoken).

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