Scottish Labour politician, Jim Murphy, the leading of three candidates for the leadership of the Scottish party which will be resolved in under a fortnight, has today published a tribute to, Gordon Brown, Labour’s former Chancellor and Prime Minister, one of the most substantial political figures of our time. Whatever anyone may have thought of him, Brown was never a lightweight, always an homme serieux and, as such, his presence dignified politics.
The contemporary Labour party remains divided, like a country long after civil war, on the lines of who was a Blairite and who a Brownite in the long dominance of the three successive Blair administrations. These may have made Labour powerful for the time being but irrevocably poisoned the well of politics in this country; and left it vulnerable for the first tine to international Islamist terrorism.
Jim Murphy was in the Blair camp – and that remains a matter of judgment for which he must answer. He did vote for the Iraq war – at a tine when serious questions were in the air he breathed at Westminster. That too requires a serious explanation and not the light dismissal of ‘Well that’s what I did at the time’. He will have had his reasons and he needs to offer them honestly as he is personally capable of doing.
Given that it is well known that Murphy and Brown were not politically close and that Brown marked the cards of the Blairites, Murphy’s tribute to a political force he describes as ‘passionate and irascible’ glosses over the behavioural characteristics that the ‘irascibility’ was wont to deliver – and reaches beyond the superficialities to identify the heart of a man who has mattered.
He details the depth of Brown’s unchallengeable passion for his country – and notes that this has always been a serious obstruction to the SNP’s general mode of character assassination.
He offers genuinely interesting insights into the comparative behaviours of Blair and Brown when, in his ministerial capacities, he took policy suggestions to each of them.
He records Brown’s sense of fair play in his own promotions, eventually to Cabinet as Secretary of State for Scotland – and pays tribute to the fact that Brown supported him in every decision he took.
He provides the proper balance in assessing the impact of Brown’s role in the meltdown of the financial institutions in 2008. The Blair-instigated ‘regulation with a light touch’ over which, as Chancellor, Brown presided, may have bred the crisis but Murphy underlines the reality – that it was Brown who saved the situation in the swift and decisive action he took in issuing guarantees.
Had he not done so, what this country would have experienced is unimaginable. There would not only have been runs on the banks known to be in trouble but there would have been a general run on banks and other financial institutions as the public trust in them as a genre had been – and remains – irreparably damaged.
To this mammoth redemptive achievement, Murphy adds a recent fellow – and one every bit as substantial. He calls Brown ‘the man who saved the Union’ – which is literally true.
The astute Murphy does not fall into the trap of seeing this as the launchpad for the BOGOF offers of more and more devolved powers triggered by Brown’s ‘pledge’ of greater devolution in the event of a rejection of independence. He understands that what persuaded some waverers to support the Union was the spirit, the fight, the attack, the strength of what Brown threw into the mix for the Union case at the last minute.
This was a campaign that in truth had never been fought and one where petty Labour internal politics had seen Brown not invited to be part of it.
His decision to do what he did was his own, an independent effort made out of sheer desperation as he saw the value of unity propelled to the bin by rampant nationalist separatist politics lit by latter day hippiedom. Brown was fighting, single-handed, a last ditch defence of the Union he knew that, whatever its the current enfeebledness, is an irreplaceable strength and shelter for all within it.
Murphy, although modestly he does not say so, must, from his own experience and actions, understand Brown’s desperation at this stage of the indyref campaign. Murphy too went solo on a whirlwind ‘100 towns in 100 days’ traverse of Scotland’s streets, armed only with a microphone and a couple of Irn Bru crates to stand on.
That buccaneering initiative too is credited with making a positive impact on the pro-union vote but Murphy, generously and probably accurately, identifies Brown’s as the critical intervention. It did not make the 5% difference that took the vote to a 10%+ majority. The vote would have been pro-Union anyway, more narrowly. The Brown intervention, though, unarguably helped to make that vote more reassuringly decisive.
There was an odd little feature in Gordon Brown’s departing address in Kirkcaldy last night. He said: ‘I will not be returning to Westminster, to the House of Commons – or to the House of Lords.’ This last addition was rather pointed. Given that to the end of his days Brown will helplessly see himself in contra-distinction to the Blair creature, does this mean that Brown has heard that Blair will now seek the ermine?
It is worth noting the difference between the departures from politics of the two Labour politicians who will never be remembered alone – Blair and Brown.
When Blair left, he made the most self-regarding statement in the House of Commons, painting himself into a position history will certainly not validate and ending mawkishly, almost in tears himself, with the words. ‘That’s it. The end’.
Gordon Brown signed off with a nod to someone else’s future, saying ‘It is time for a new person with new ideas’.