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Nothing flash from Gordon

Brian Taylor | 17:30 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2007

It was only a passing reference, scarcely worthy of note in the wider conference address.

But my ears twittered a little when I heard Gordon Brown say: “We will in our manifesto commit to introduce the principle of elections for the second chamber.”

So why the twittering, other than the aftermath of a weekend in which Dundee United lost to Gretna (Gretna!) and Scotland failed to turn up against the All Blacks?

Because the Prime Minister’s no doubt careful choice of wording prompted an instant further question:

“Which manifesto would this be? For which election? A UK General Election that doesn’t need to be called until 2010?”

Note the wording again. Our manifesto. Not our next manifesto. Or our manifesto for the next election. But our manifesto.

For a presumably proximate contest, relatively speaking.

Intriguing contrast of attitudes, here in Bournemouth.

Wendy Alexander’s speech opens with an apology for an election just past, the Holyrood election in which Labour lost power. If her speech were a book or a film, it would be “Atonement”.

By contrast, Gordon Brown’s would be “Passport to Pimlico” or some equally uplifting comedy about British pluck.

That’s because delegates here who live south of Hadrian’s Wall (and those whose focus is primarily Westminster) are eagerly discussing an election to come. October? May next year?

As one MP commented to me: “That was a manifesto speech. If I were one of the fifty or so MPs in marginal seats, I’d be telling Gordon to call the election now.”

Could the (relatively) doleful condition of Scottish Labour impact upon the PM’s decision, arguing for deferral?

Perhaps – although there’s data evidence which suggests that Scots are intuitively less inclined to vote for the SNP in elections to Westminster.

But back to Gordon Brown’s speech. Serious, purposeful, primarily domestic – with the exception of a brief reference to the EU constitution and a substantial section on global poverty and conflict.

It was mercifully joke free. Gordon generally doesn’t do funnies – or, rather, he recycles the same jokes.

The single transferable gag, if you like. Not because he is personally dour - you need a keen sense of humour to support Raith Rovers – but because his instincts and reputation are founded on serious politics.

People wouldn’t understand him, wouldn’t believe him if he started cracking jokes like a music hall (or, in Bournemouth, pier-end) comic.

Secondly, for a new leader setting his party a new challenge, the tone was in some ways remarkably old-fashioned – or, perhaps more accurately, an attempt to reinterpret standing values for contemporary society.

He evoked his own upbringing, his childhood in the manse. He referred to his young family. He spoke in Churchillian (or at least Attlee-esque) tones about his pride in being British.

Quite deliberately, he played upon Britain’s most familiar collective myth: that of a small nation, confronted but unbowed, standing proudly together against external forces.

It could have been another conviction politician talking, one who governed from 1979 to 1990.

(For the avoidance of doubt, I am using the word “myth” in its precise sense of a shared and instantly recognisable narrative. I am NOT implying that the PM was voicing an untruth.)

There wasn’t a dry eye in the one and nines as he praised citizens mopping up after floods, contesting foot and mouth and fighting terror (including Glasgow Airport hero John Smeaton who was in the hall.)
Mr Brown even turned to matron for advice. Matrons, he said, would be empowered to order cleaning contractors to improve their efforts in the wards.

In passing, of course, one might note that he is not in a position to implement such a reform for his own constituency of Kirkcaldy, domestic politics being largely devolved to Holyrood.

What, though, of the underlying message? He did set out to evoke a new approach, a “moral compass” of mutual help and rights blended with responsibilities.

He placed this in the context of an “aspirational” Britain where folk expected the chance to make the most of their talents.

His prime argument was that, in the global economy, Britain must compete with higher skills, more widely spread.

There is, in truth, little radical or innovative about this. That combination of “aspiration and community” is fairly familiar. Then again, that’s the pitch. No gimmicks, no gags. Nothing flash from Gordon.


  • 1.
  • At 06:16 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

Wendy apologises to her party for losing?! How about apologising to the people of Scotland for 8 years of incompetent government, illegal wars, wmd on the Clyde and the mortgaging of pupil's futures by PFI projects? How about apologising for the negativity of the Labour campaign in May of this year? And less carping on about "the politics of aspiration" please! In Scotland, Labour politics is firmly grounded in fear. Fear the "Nats" might win, and fear the Tories may sweep England anyway and deny Scotland the government it "deserves", (a Labour government).

  • 2.
  • At 06:58 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

Hi Brian

Im sure GB would love to have a southern election right now with the tories in a terrible state and put to bed all this lack of mandate nonsense.

On the other hand it would be unwise to have a northern election just now as so far polls indicate the snp would most likely increase their westminster seats ,not enough to threaten the union but enough to give scottish labour MPS (not msps) a slap in the face also.

He will walk a tightrope between what opinion is in the north versus the opinion in the south and call the election when the best balance for maximum seats can be achieved.

Not an easy thing at the moment, hearing lots of anti-scottish pro English nartionalism from the tories making GB look like he has favourites up north, and Ms Alexander no-matter how bright is not the orator Scottish Labour needs to bring the scottish electorate out of the light the SNP is basking in at the moment (although if they get the sums wrong we all might have to divy up a few more 50ps for the meter). So when is the best time for an election? hold on and wait to see if the SNP stuff it up in the north or Go early while the tories in the south are in dissarray.

Good luck paw Broon you'll need it.

  • 3.
  • At 07:28 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Not being a Brownite, even though I live adjacent to his constituency of Dunfermline East and his Scottish home I found his speech at the Labour Party Conference today probably one of the best, if not the best I have listened to from a serving Prime Minister; this was truly a wide ranging, truly all encompassing, truly promoting inclusiveness, ideals the like of which other political leaders have attempted to claim for themselves, claims which have proved to be false and hollow attempts at populism, the tests of Gordon Brown’s delivery begins today.

This does not mean that I have become a Labour convert or voter based on one hour and three minutes in September 2007; what I have always said is that my vote is won on the basis of political party’s manifestos, based on whether or not the promises are either believable or borne out by a party’s track record.
Change is essential and must continue, the PM has indicated many issues where change is required and planned, even one of turning back the clock to link pensions to earnings; it is essential for those in power to admit where decisions have been made in error and correct them.

The police being freed up to police our streets rather than being bogged down with paperwork is a plus; having said that I feel much of the problems associated with the dogma based in the paperwork filled out by police and checked by senior officers is an ‘in house’ obsession of senior officers intent purely on covering their own rear ends.

I do believe Gordon Brown when he claims he is a conviction politician and as such he is in politics for the right reasons, accepting that all politicians are egotists we must look for the most honest and most believable amongst these Westminster egos; we must validate the claims of all politicians before we trust them with our valuable votes.

  • 4.
  • At 07:37 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Marianne wrote:

You would think from the speech that somehow Gordon Brown had just arrived on the scene and was starting with a clean slate. What a crafty character he is!

But this man was in power for 10 years. Just look at the mess that's piled up at his door. We are already up to our eyes in debt as a result of his rampant PFI & PPP policies and the Northern Rock collapse is just the tip of the iceberg.The drug scene, guns, disaffected youth. What about his pension pinching, privatising, warmongering past? If people are really prepared to ignore/overlook his culpability then he really is as teflon coated as ever Tony Blair was and the British public are blinkered.

I don't think the BBC should even cover the Party conferences nowadays because with their strictly invited audiences and carefully controlled agendas which keep anything controversial off limits they are merely Political Party advertising, no different from cans of beans and should be treated as such.

  • 5.
  • At 09:45 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

Gordon Brown is my MP. I voted for him at the last UK election. In fact i've voted labour at every election since 1979.

I'm not going to vote for them anymore.
I was totally put off by the negative campaign they ran leading up to the May election and voted for the SNP.
I have to say what breath of fresh air they have been, very positive.

Will they make mistakes, of course they will.
Will they get all their manifesto pledges through, of course they wont.

No party ever does none of them.

What you can bet on is they will always is put the people of Scotland first.

Labour in my opinion are still very negative r.e 'Wendy's speach today', SORRY how patronising was that? She is going to turn out to be Alec Salmond's biggest recruitment Sargent.

As for Mr Brown standing on the steps of number 10 with Margaret Thatcher, what a betrayal.

  • 6.
  • At 09:07 AM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • Chasa wrote:

Brown once again wrapping himself in the Union Jack, he really should change it to the English flag. When Brown mentions schools, hospitals, and crime, he is talking about England we Scots have had our election on these issues last May, but he forgets that.
The next general election is hardly about Scotland other than in certain key issues (defence, foriegn policy etc.)and Brown knows this, it will be interesting to seem him wriggle when the English National Party (Conservatives) put this to him come the English General Election.

  • 7.
  • At 09:27 AM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • Colin wrote:

As the old saying goes, 'beauty is in the eyes of the beholder'. I found the speech toe-curling, buttock-clenchingly naff. Indeed, embarrassing! His body language strikes the wrong chord with many people and I am convinced that the English will eventually rumble this rather hypocritical son of the manse.
Much of it was totally irrelevant to Scotland such as his references to education & health.
Wendy was even worse and that is saying something!!

  • 8.
  • At 09:51 AM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

If he looks like a Tory, talks like a Tory and shakes hands with Tories then he is a Tory.

Gordon Brown's fondness for a one party state is based on his own inherent Conservatism (big C intended).

  • 9.
  • At 10:46 AM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • mairi macleod wrote:

hi brian,
here we go again with more guff,with
intent,to round up all those who GOT
AWAY at our recent ell.
if i closed my eyes, i could easely have been transported back in time to
the last occupant of no.ten,
the words were the same,the posture
too, all calculated to keep himself
in power, nothing for us scots,
one would easely think HE WAS NEW TO ALL THIS, quite forgeting he was just as responsible for worst happenings of the last decade,GB. AS
WELL AS TB.were together as one.
this is to influence middle england
to vote FOR HIM.

  • 10.
  • At 11:23 AM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • James in Japan wrote:

I have to agree with #3. GB performed a class speech. You could sense the tingling of spines among members of the conference as he expressed his conviction and vision from every pore of his body.

I like 3 am not a Brownite, but Gordy's speech seemed to ring with an authority, depth and gravitas that Blair could never achieve with his glibism and his "well, you know, the thing is..." rhetoric.

I still think that Labour are going to get battered north of the border if there is an election despite what the statistics say. It is time... it's more than time!

  • 11.
  • At 01:13 PM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • BJ wrote:

I've been voting Labour almost consistantly for about twenty years. But for the first time, I voted Labour last May and regretted it.

My immediate concern about the SNP administration would be that all ties with Westminster would break down and Tony/Gordon would have to give us independence. Three months later, I actually think Scotland is a better place. I wouldn't vote for independence in a referendum, but I think the SNP are getting the most for Scotland out of devolution.

Ms Alexander seems to be opposing the SNP for the sakes of it. Their manifesto and the 100 day commitments were actually solid stuff. In fact I would say I agree with most SNP policy (minus full independence). Wendy needs to realise that Salmond has his head screwed on - and start supporting some of the better initiatives.

I can only hopes she does...

  • 12.
  • At 01:46 PM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • wrote:

I am waiting with bated breath to see what the ‘Scottish’ Labour manifesto/ general election materials actually hold. As many have noted, the vast majority of Browns speech and emphasis of late has been on wholly devolved issues. It 2001 and 2005 it was easier to fudge the issues and responsibilities in a Labour dominated Holyrood and Westminster. This time, with the SNP government it will not be so, and since May many many more people are aware of what is reserved and what isn’t.

I personally thought Browns speech was adequate. His accent manipulation shows that in terms of the next GE Scotland really isn’t that important. For the SNP it will be like 1992- win a significantly larger number of votes, but boundaries and dispersed support will fail to translate it into seats.

I find the jingoism and British shoulder to shoulder nonsense a little bit nauseating. My grandmother actually found it a bit offensive, saying he was talking like we were at war. I find it quite amusing that the SNP used to be constantly attacked for romantic jingoistic revisionism. Whereas currently unionists seem to see it as the only plausible way to keep this failed state together.

  • 13.
  • At 01:59 PM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • Dr Andrea McDonnell wrote:

"Nothing Flash form Gordon"!
“Nothing at all from Gordon” - excepting his eye (remember Jenifer’s ear?). I am to vote for someone who has mortgaged off Scotland's national health service on the never never, because he had an accident at school and used the NHS? I think not! He has my sympathy, but not my vote.
Brown was missing last week until he gave way to the city to bale out Northern Rock BS. This is recurrent with Brown (Mr McAvitie). If Brown were a nurse or a doctor, he'd be the one to avoid the night shift or peak times, but by goodness if there were some ward credos for a job dome well, he'd be first in line to take credit.
Brown can not be trusted, underneath he spins like Tony Blair and would sell Scotland down the river fro English votes!

  • 14.
  • At 02:06 PM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • neil robertson wrote:

#4 Marianne makes a key point - the line in the speech where he claimed
to have only been in office 3 months
is dishonest; and the section where he basked in reflected glory over a
foot& mouth crisis that is not yet resolved; floods that the failures
by Douglas Alexander when he was a Cabinet Office Minister 'reviewing'
contingency planning failed to plan properly for; and a terrorist attack in Glasgow which was handled by The
Scottish Executive was self-serving.

The two really great things about Brown are -

1. that he is not Blair

2. err, that's it!

  • 16.
  • At 10:26 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Jean Brodie wrote:

Interestingly, it takes a depth of searching to find any articles relating to Gordon Brown and public opinion of him in Scotland and in particular his own constituency.

This is rarely, if ever touched upon in the national ‘British’ press. Almost as if the English and Welsh nations and NI enclave should not be awares of the potential loss to Brown, of his seat in Scotland.

I belong to the former School of thought that believed every vote was a wasted vote but of late have been conversing with many who once believed similar.

They are all, like me, now considering returning to the polls should a general election be called. To vote for the SNP, in the hope that it could lead to a completely new Government where the smaller 5m population would have more of a direct influence in their own governance. We are all encouraged by the possibility of a smaller more accessable government with accountability for ALL matters.

We do not trust the continual reminding of our Britishness from the likes of Wendy Alexander and Gordon Brown as being of a true value to our interests.

This is an opinion poll gathered from a former non voting contingent of the general public who wouldn’t even contribute to opinion polls ordinarily - and I think the collective of united nations should be made aware of it.

  • 17.
  • At 02:51 AM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Anne Maria Rennie wrote:

I fail to understand the lodgic of Scottish Members of Parlament, they defend Darlings budget settalment for Scotland with an asault on the Scottish Nationalist and fail to put the interests of the Scottish People first. If they all pulled together and condemed this contempt for our people, adding their suport to independance, then they would have real power with a country to run and not just glorified community councillors. The people have listened to the promisses of Labour for long enough and now they have power, we are short changed. A SCOTISH LOOSER.

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