Deceit, anger, and a personality hung out to dry in public.
Sadly, I’m not talking about the much publicised split of Cheryl and Ashley, but the depiction of Gordon Brown as a violent bully, as outlined by Andrew Rawnsley in his new book, The End of the Party. I’m 150 pages in and it’s engrossing reading.
Closely following Brown’s love-in television performance with Piers Morgan, The End of the Party has created a media and political tempest, with fingers being pointed and previous statements vehemently denied.
Downing Street has predictably gone over the top, expressing three different denials in 48 hours. Mandelson and co. have all been wheeled out to give conferences stating that “the government have better things to do than chase around newspapers”.
This is strangely at odds with an executive who have constantly issued statements rubbishing Rawnsley as a hack just out to make a name for himself.
There’s a feverish desire to know what other people get up to in this country. We can deny it all we want, but there’s a reason why Heat sells almost half a million copies per issue. Compare that with the New Statesman’s paltry 27,000 copies, and it’s fair to say that a lot of us care a lot more about what politicians do in their spare time as opposed to on the job.
Interestingly, this is not a problem that has affected the rest of Europe. Until the last election, the French regarded politician’s private lives to be off limits. They reasoned that as long as elected representatives turned up and did the job properly, why worry what their personalities are like?
It’s a topic always open to debate, mainly in the vein of the public’s right to know versus suitability for the job.
Back to Brown. We have always known him as the dour Scotsman. Standing scowling for all those years in the shadow of effervescent, grinning Tony Blair.
So revelations confirming these suspicions shouldn’t raise as many eyebrows as they have. Commentators and former politicians (notably John Prescott, in an explosive rant on Newsnight) have been quick to criticise Rawnsley, accusing him of a bad sense of timing with the general election looming, and writing off the book as mere sensationalism.
On the contrary, if the book were to be released at any time during Brown’s premiership, now would be the best time. Remember all the fuss kicked up in June last year? Disastrous results in the local and European elections for Labour, coupled with James Purnell resigning from cabinet and imploring Brown to step down, to give the party “a fighting chance of winning the next election”.
If Rawnsley had decided to go to print then, he would’ve delivered the knockout punch to Brown’s ageing and wearied prizefighter.
As it is, we’re at the point of no return. There is no chance of an interior Labour party revolt now. The general election is mooted to be in May, and not even the most audacious of politicians would dare challenge Brown’s leadership now.
So what of the book? At 670 pages, and a staggering 80 pages of references and sources, Bridget Jones it ain’t. But what it does do is inform and offer a fascinating insight into life at Westminster.
Most gripping are the last days of Tony Blair in power, his character weakened by both press cynicism, troubles in government, and an aggressive chancellor knocking on the door of Number 10. When he leaves, as a shell of the optimistic and youthful man elected in 1997, the book concentrates on Brown and his attempts to win round the electorate and a party who are forever embroiled in petty disputes and power plays.
Inevitably, the book has been reported as an anti-Labour hatchet job on Brown. However, further reading reveals that it is not entirely condemning of his character and policy decisions. Much is made of his purposeful desire to get things done, to react to situations positively and quickly. Even those who clearly favoured Blair as leader admit they cannot help but be impressed by his pragmatism and other positive attributes.
The book’s contents will undoubtably provide ammunition for David Cameron’s weekly bout of verbal tennis at Prime Minister’s Questions. But he needs to tread carefully. With the Conservatives now at the lowest poll rating for two years, Cameron has his own matters to address regarding how to turn rhetoric into cast iron policies that will gather votes.
Those who predicted a quiet election have been proven wrong.