It's been a few months now since Gordon Brown stepped up to the plate and became Labour leader. He's naturally enough been compared to Blair, unfavourably for the most part. But the past relationship between Blair and Brown curiously offers little to provide a key as to see Brown now. It's as if acquiring power has filled out Brown's deflated ego, and pushed all his happy buttons. He seems a different person.
After Maggie's visit to No 10, commentators have also been examining his Thatcherite credentials. Looked at against either of the two former megastars of British political life, Brown now, who everyone thought they knew so well, strangely offers no resonance. He is currently a leader without clear definition, who does not seem to connect with what he represented so recently, or, for that matter with any other politician in recent memory. This lack of connection is troubling many. They are hunting around trying to find how to place Gordon Brown into context. In this void of pattern, or at least of recognition of pattern, Brown finds he can keep commentators and opponents alike on the wrong foot, giving him the elbow room he needs to establish his authority.
But is he really so unusual, and different to what has come before? Is Brown really outside the pattern? Not really. Rather it is the extraordinariness of Blair and of Thatcher which has created a false context for whatever will come next. Until Thatcher, political life in Britain had a recognisable regularity to it. The same events kept repeating and the same ineffective attempts were made to bring about change, decade after decade. Then Thatcher came.
She had the vision to see that it must all be swept away, and came along and did just that. Blair was the Thatcher follow-up act. He could see that the Thatcher revolution had gone as far as it could, and that voters wanted an end to the big upheaval thay had been put through. He saw how to exploit the desire of people to relax and enjoy a bit of glamour, and park all the seriousness of the Thatcher revolution. He created party time, and people by and large loved it, although his wars didn't quite fit in too well in the Blair era. When people look back in 100 years time, it will be the Thatcher and the Blair years that will stand out.
Brown has no connection with either Blair or Thatcher. He is not a revolutionary visionary, and he is not a party boy. Nor is he an Attlee, a Benn, a Wilson, a Kinnock or a Foot. So what kind of a fish is he for God's sake?
Funnily enough there is a good parallel figure who looks strangely similar to Brown from the Conservative Party's past, and one who has not yet caught the eye of the commentors as a good way to view Gordon Brown's leadership. Edward Heath.
Heath was upstaged by Thatcher, and bitterly resentful of her. Brown will always be upstaged by Blair, and was and no doubt will again at some point be bitterly resentful of him. Heath filled out in office, and seemed all powerful, just as Brown is doing now. But both were oblivious of the forces that were rising against them in Heath's case, and are rising against Brown. It was and is their blindness to threat, or the belief that they have dealt with it that makes/made them so puzzlingly overconfident.
They both expect/expected the Unions to cooperate with their plans to grow the economy by accepting wage rises well below the rate of inflation. They both want the economy to grow, and for others to take on the risk, while not keeping inflation under control. They both confuse their own interest with the national interest, and expected everyone else to carry the load of their ineffectiveness, caused in large part by trying to overcentralise all decision-taking.
They both want (ed) to sell out Britain to Europe by deception, and keep repeating their deceptions and expect no one to challenge them, believing their own beliefs superior.
Thatcher and Blair both operated with bitter enemies at close range on occasions, and were able to ignore the fact of differences of opinion, and work together. Brown is exactly like Heath. If Heath didn't like you, you wouldn't get a chance. Charles Clark and John Reid are out. A bunch of lesser greyer men have taken over.
If history is to repeat itself, Brown like Heath will impale himself on a lost general election, which he imagines he is bound to win. Whether it will be the Unions or the issue of Europe, or something else, Brown will take one too many groups for granted, thinking he has got all bases covered, and be shocked that voters don't like leaders that offer nothing but their ego in need of a large massage. The resulting sulk will no doubt last a generation, if the Heath example is anything to go by.
If Cameron starts to see Edward Heath when he looks at Gordon Brown, he might play him a little better. Cameron played Blair to perfection. He is adjusting his act to face Brown, but instead of modernising to extremity, he might find it in fact helps to look back 34 years, for the clues as to what will happen next. While Brown claims to be all things to all people, he will at the same time be crushing too many of them, and making others feel that the arm-twisting and power-games are all a bit unnecessary . Heath-like cracks will be starting to appear. Cameron needs to appear competent, and reasonable, tidy up his policy issues as he is doing, bring in more strength like Redwood who can expose Brown's incompetence, or tap into Heseltine's skill at dismembering opponents, and wait for the moment.
Another commentator going back to the 1970s to find a Gordon Brown parallel is Mike Smithson on Political Betting (possibly prompted by a post from me the day before).