Monday, October 13, 2008

Gordon Brown in Heroic Mood

It’s beginning to look as if Gordon Brown has found his narrative; yes the one about his survival from the abyss he fell into as his government began to crack and nearly unravel.

Some are already comparing it to Mrs Thatcher’s difficult time in the polls until she discovered the Falkland Islands, which her Minister of Defence, John Nott, appeared to signal he had decided to leave undefended by withdrawing its token naval protection vessel, HMS Endurance, scheduled for decommissioning in 1982.

The Argentinean dictator, General Galtieri, took the hint in desperation, and tried a ‘diversionary war’ to deflect popular unrest at his country’s economic crises; Mrs Thatcher instinctively reacted with her ‘iron will’ and re-took the islands and basked in immediate popularity and electoral acclaim.

Gordon Brown has seized the moment of the financial crisis with its dramatic opportunities to lay claim to similar acclaim and electoral success, reversing the past months of decline and indecisiveness, to appear a leader of iron will and determination. The script is already under composition:

In Times Online 10 October, we read HERE:

Gordon Brown invokes past heroes in surprise fighting speech at Cheltenham

He quoted Field Marshall Montgomery and his belief that his troops were his most important asset. He invoked General Sir William Slim, known as “Uncle Bill”, who was written off by snootier superiors until he defeated the Japanese in Burma to become one of the most admired British officers in the Second World War.

Even Adam Smith, patron saint of the free market and the other famous son of Kirkcaldy (“a bit more famous than me”), was dragged into line to support the huge stakes the British taxpayer has taken in leading banks this week. “He had a moral sense that we all share some sort of responsibility for each other and he believed that where necessary you have to intervene.”

Brown projects the images of these famous heroes (no reports that he quoted Mrs Thatcher’s appointment with destiny) and by implication projects their ‘now is the day and now is the hour’ moments onto himself.
Be clear I am not knocking his own moment on the knife edge of destiny – Smithian commentators ‘observe’; they do not ‘preach’.

I do expect that if the whole of Gordon’s financial programme of ‘rescue’ and ‘reversal’ works with a presentable heroic narrative (his scrptwriters we may be sure are working hard at several drafts), the polls will reverse into a massive lead for Labour and a great temptation to call the election he fumbled last year, as he taunts the Tories with: ‘you wanted an election - you’ve got one!’

Whether that leads to four more terms for Labour is another matter.

However, I doubt if any accomplished politician and party leader is capable of living Adam Smith’s ‘moral sense’ merely by telling us what we already know – that he had one – or that he knows what Smith meant by ‘responsibility’ for others, or the limits to ‘intervention’.

Smith was hostile to a ‘man of system’ who believed he knew what was best for everybody and treated people as if they were wooden pieces on the chess board of their panaceas, forgetting that people act under ‘different’ laws of motion to those the man of system tries to impose upon them.

This is the fatal weakness of politicians, especially those who are convinced that they have shaken the hand of their destiny, when in reality they are merely 'wise in their own conceit' (Moral Sentiments VI.ii.2.17: p 233)


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