I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. His ten years as Chancellor of the Exchequer were characterised by his dour persona – arguably necessary in such a position – and much discussed “prudence”. Where Tony Blair was instinctive, Gordon was cerebral. While Blair loved to talk about the big ideas (but had no stomach for detail), Brown was depicted as analytical and considered, obsessed by the minutiae of any issue, a thinker, not a talker. Practical, reliable, but no visionary.
It was always going to be a shaky handover. After ten years of being in Blair’s shadow and, on countless occasions, simply disappearing completely whenever there was a crisis, there was a huge question mark over Brown’s suitability as a leader of country and party. In actual fact, he got off to a rather good start. But it proved to be a really short honeymoon. He was caught out being somewhat disingenuous when he visited Iraq during the week of the Conservative Party’s conference and announced that 1,000 British troops would be returning home from Iraq earlier than planned. There was the Northern Rock calamity: bailed out with a loan from the government of £25 billion in September, but still no nearer to a permanent solution. There was the embarrassing dithering over whether or not to call a general election: plans that were immediately scrapped following a sudden dip of Labour Party support in the opinion polls. The biggest story this week has been the infamous “lost discs“, where HM Revenue and Customs managed to lose child benefit records containing the names, addresses, birth dates, National Insurance numbers and bank details of approximately 25 million people. Bad enough was the apparent lack of control and procedure around maintaining the private data of British citizens, but the fact that Chancellor Alastair Darling knew about the breach several days before it became public news shows a level of governmental incompetence and arrogance not seen since the John Major years.
Gordon just about survived PM’s questions on Wednesday, but it wasn’t pretty. Far from being the “big clunking fist” described by Tony Blair a year ago, he looks more like the sensitive fat boy in the playground, reduced to the point of tears by some mild teasing from rich kid David Cameron. Cameron’s job couldn’t be easier at the moment. As every day seems to throw up another disaster for the government to deal with, he only has to point the finger at his adversary and sing “ner ner ne ner ner” to get a clumsy reaction. That said, he still didn’t manage to land a killer blow, even in the middle of what some commentators are calling Labour’s “Black Wednesday” moment, so maybe Brown will have the last laugh after all. Either way, it’s going to be entertaining.