The Great Clunking Fist needs to say it better

May 1, 2008

brownportrait.jpgHearing Gordon Brown say he’d made mistakes yesterday almost made me jump. Could the Great Clunking Fist really be admitting he’d got something wrong?

I’ve been covering Brown for more than ten years — both at the Treasury and now at No 10. And in all the interviews, international trips and news conferences I have never heard him say sorry.

He’ll usually quotes a blizzard of figures or just repeat what he said, just more emphatically. He certainly would never concede anyone else could be right.

That was much the case when the whole row over the 10 pence tax row started. Brown wouldn’t accept that his abolition of the lowest tax rate could hit millions of poor people.

Fairly or unfairly he maintained that people losing out from scrapping the 10p rate would benefit from other allowances or tax credits. People would come to understand this was a major tax reform — he also cut the basic rate of tax to 20 pence from 22 pence in the pound. Nor were there too many rebels in his own Labour Party.

That changed last week though when nearly 50 Labour MPs looked ready to vote against the government. The Treasury quickly said it would make some concessions in the form of handouts to anyone losing out.

And then on Wednesday, Brown admitted he had made not just one, but two mistakes. He had not thought about the low-paid who didn’t get a tax credit and there was no help for some of the elderly who don’t get pensioners’ tax allowances.

This appears to be the new listening Gordon. His new strategists — former PR guru Stephen Carter and ad man David Muir — must be telling him he has to emote more.

Labour is taking a pounding in the polls and his own personal ratings have dropped sharply over the last six months.

We saw a bit of this a couple of weeks ago. Instead of crying his usual refrain that no country can insulate itself from the ups and downs of the global economy, Brown said he understood people’s concerns, their worries about their well-being.

On top of that, Brown is probably genuinely wounded by people thinking he was robbing the poor to pay the middle classes. One of his lasting legacies running the Treasury for a decade has been a more redistributive focus to tax policy.

He does care about helping the poor, he is never more passionate than when talking about ending poverty in Africa.

The problem is that he doesn’t do touchy-feely very well. Perhaps the great irony is that Conservative leader David Cameron — a child of privilege, educated at Eton and Oxford — does the bloke-next-door so much better than Brown, son of a stern Scottish clergyman.

Cameron often peppers his conversation with everyday slang and talks about “stuff”. Brown finds it hard to stop himself from talking about economic stability, fiscal rectitude and the long-term challenges facing Britain.

Brown may think he is building a better, fairer Britain. He needs to say it better.

3 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Everything about the Labour Movement changed when Blair changed the Party’s name. He should have called it New Conservatives because there is no closer description of its activities. Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax band is a slap in the face for the low-paid worker who faces, no, is, being taxed more heavily. The hard-working Rich continue to run away with all the money while the shirker who won’t get out of bed to earn the minimum wage is being carried as usual.

Posted by William Fowler | Report as abusive

Economic stability – financial rectitude??

The UK has never had a Socialist chancellor who didn’t leave an empty bank account for his successor and years of hardship for the country during its recovery under a Conservative government.

Brown is no exception. When he goes in 2010 there will be nothing left. Billions of pounds pissed into the wind for nothing.

Posted by Mike T | Report as abusive

I doubt that Bottler Brown ever had a “clunking fist”.

A better description is THE DEAD HAND.

Posted by Lobito | Report as abusive