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I feel compelled to whisper it softly, but maybe, just maybe, Gordon Brown has the fortitude and reserve of character to extricate himself from his current woes and lead the Labour party to election glory in 2010. It is a small miracle, and testament to a fundamentally decent man, pilloried in the press, that he has survived recent backbench rumblings, financial chaos and the renewed threat of a resurgent Conservative Party (thus far) with his dignity intact, though with significantly greyer hair.
His conference speech, with the cutting attack that “this is no time for a novice”, was the sort of statement of determined intent the party needed from its leader to quell the threat of the slick and well-oiled spin machine that is Dave Cameron , and the problem closer to home regarding the upstart David Miliband. I admit that the Tories are still way ahead in the polls but their confidence in their belief they are the “government in waiting” could come back to haunt them as it did for Neil Kinnock and the Labour party in 1992. Back then, mirroring what Brown hopes to achieve in 2010, John Major managed to emerge from the shadow of his towering predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, and claim an impressive election victory from the jaws of a resurgent opposition that had distanced itself from the spectre of its less palatable elements
It is this sort of turn-around that may appear unlikely, perhaps even impossible even at the moment, but if Gordon Brown can continue to weather the storm and do as much as possible to ease the coming recession then he may have a lifeline to take into the next general election.
Many people unfairly blame him for the current credit crunch. Although he was unwise to claim he had dismissed the notion of a boom and bust back in his early days as Chancellor, the current problems stem s from a world-wide downturn coupled with the greed of unscrupulous city bankers. The banking sector may have been left under -regulated by the Labour government, but it would have faced far less scrutiny had the Conservatives been in power.
The internal rumblings amongst Labour’s parliamentary ranks also appear to have been snuffed out with the outbursts of assorted minor Labour figures such as Siobhain McDonagh and Barry Gardiner going mercifully unsupported. Just a month ago, Brown’s political epitaph was already written with Blairite ultras snapping at his heels like angry serpents; attempting to elevate David Miliband to contend for the premiership. But Brown has forced his way through the barrage of criticism fired at him by his detractors, and with a good conference and measured cabinet reshuffle behind him, he is back on the road having navigated his way through a rocky summer and lacklustre attempt at an early autumn re-launch. That he referred to his autumn policies (involving house insulation and freezes on stamp duty) as a re-launch at all is demonstration that he acknowledges the fact there were problems before.
Gordon Brown is, and always has been, a complex figure. He is a decent and honest (perhaps too much so) man who excelled as Chancellor and still retains the faith of many in handling economic difficulties despite, Alistair Darling’s downbeat and overly dramatic predictions that the country is heading into its worst financial crisis for sixty years. And yet, he still lacks the gravitas and leadership of Tony Blair, who was recognised as a major player in world politics during his time in office, and still is now. On the world stage, Brown is very much in the shadow of his French and German heads of state, Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel respectively. However, perhaps in the current climate, Brown’s rather dour persona is what is needed to steer the country and if he can avert another bye-election embarrassment in Glenrothes on November 6th (conveniently scheduled to be buried under the media coverage of the US presidential election aftermath) , the next eighteen months could prove to be an opportunity to rebuild the shattered reputation of New Labour and prove to the nation once and for all, that substance over style is what Britain needs most.