Insights from the UK and beyond
Iron Chancellor to leaden Prime Minister
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One of Gordon Brown’s favourite speech writers is leaving Number 10 to return to the Treasury. That gives Brown the perfect opportunity to draft in someone who has the ability to coin the kind of phrases that chime with the electorate and stick in people’s minds.
To date, that is something Brown, whose dismal year in office was underlined on Friday with a humiliating fifth place by-election finish for Labour, has signally failed to do. Sure, Brown wanted to move away from the accusations of endless spin that soured the public mood towards his slick predecessor Tony Blair.
But the mantras Brown has chosen to repeat ad nauseum since he took up the mantle of Prime Minister have failed to stick. Stressing how many people Labour has taken out of poverty in the past decade, or the need to take “long-term decisions” just isn’t working.
People need reassurance over fuel and food prices, over crime and security, but perhaps more than anything they need to be convinced Brown understands — and cares.
Brown — nicknamed the Iron Chancellor during his decade at the Treasury — is right to focus on the long-term. He wants to ensure people can afford to buy homes, that the country slashes its reliance on non-environmentally friendly energy, and that taxpayers have access to good healthcare, education and welfare support.
But with voters feeling the pinch, it’s the short term that’s key, and if Brown wants his messages about the kind of place Britain needs to become longer-term to stick, he might need to think about the kind of sound-bite approach that Blair used so well.
Brown’s tried a more “man of the people” approach but that hasn’t convinced. Voters are not warming to the serious, unsmiling Prime Minister. And if Brown can’t change his manner, then he needs to change the kinds of words he uses.
Of course, he will also need some luck. No amount of “in tune” rhetoric is going to help if people continue to feel he’s not the man to lead them through the economic bad times. But at the moment, his language and demeanour seem to compound voters’ unease. The Iron Chancellor risks becoming the leaden Prime Minister of British history: dull, inert and potentially poisonous.