How Gordon Brown ended New Labour

By Roshan Chandy

1994 at the Granita Restaurant. That was the date the Granita Pact is said to have been agreed and Gordon Brown would not contest the Labour leadership provided Tony Blair stepped down after two terms.

The existence of such a deal has been denied many times by both Blair and Brown and Peter Mandelson, but Brown was desperate – power hungry even – to seize the keys to No.10 and, after 10 years in power, Tony Blair stepped down and the iron-fisted Chancellor took office.

Blair and Brown: A New Labour Revolution, which documents the story of Labour’s time under the two leaders, has aired on the BBC.

This excellent documentary traces the beginnings of one of the most Shakespearean, Machiavellian even bromances-cum-rivalries ever to make it into politics.

Blair and Brown were anything, but ideological soulmates. As Mandelson recalls, Brown was firmly “anti-Tory” criticising everything they did, whereas Blair saw some of the good the Tories had done and tried to incorporate it into the New Labour model.

But a more pertinent difference between the two men was far more their personalities.

Blair was a performer, a showman – a man of telegenic presence and unshakeable human confidence. He lit up the stage with his presence the same way David Cameron did, wore a suit nicely and had pearly white teeth like no other.

Brown was, in contrast, a glum-looking fellow. A dour, pot-bellied, angry bulldog of a man with a reputation for grouchiness and social aloofness.

He had a volcanic temper, but a formidable mind and intellect which is what allowed him to become such a long-serving Chancellor.

It must have been hard for Gordon from the outset. Whatever flack Blair received for Iraq, there was no questioning he was an exceptional political leader with a flair for public image.

In contrast, Brown’s attempts to look personable felt forced and cringe-worthy. His PR people even encouraged him to get married as they couldn’t stand the idea of a bachelor at No.10.

Perhaps Brown should have realised his lack of charisma and sociability made him utterly unfit to be Prime Minister. He should’ve stuck to what he did best which was being Chancellor where he supposedly abolished “boom and bust”; although I would argue this didn’t happen as Labour’s system of regulation didn’t prevent the 2008 Financial Crisis and we’re now in another one 13 years later.

I think this succession pact was what killed New Labour stone dead.

Brown was never officially elected neither by his party nor the country. In fact, he flunked the chance to call an early election that many predicted he would win. No, Brown became Prime Minister via coronation – assuming the throne in June 2007.

No previous Prime Minister of peacetimes seemed better-qualified at least on paper to do the job.

He had, of course, spent a decade as a hugely formidable chancellor (“the iron chancellor”) where he had pumped millions into the NHS, education and welfare. Reforms which, in my opinion, doubled the national debt and created a nanny state where people were better off on Benefits than in work.

A man blinded by his ambition to be Prime Minister only to find he wasn’t cut-out for it when he got the top job.

It’s ironic that the highpoint of his premiership for many people was his recapitalisation scheme to bail out the banks where he “saved the world”.

Brown’s premiership was much like Theresa May’s – defined by Caesar-like backstabbings and Machiavellian plots to remove him from the top job.

Safe and simple, he should never have been Prime Minister. Old, grumpy men don’t make for good title-holders of that office bar Winston Churchill who was a cantankerous old fellow.

But what I really object is the manner in which Brown was crowned Prime Minister. Neither by general election or Labour leadership election. He simply assumed the role when Blair stepped down which is a scandalous example of a succession pact 13 years in the making.

There should have been a leadership election. David Miliband, an adamant Blairite, should have thrown his hat in the ring.

So should Alan Johnson, who was long tipped as a future leader. Maybe Margaret Beckett who would’ve preceded Theresa May as the second female Prime Minister. Any of these choices would’ve been better suited than Crash Gordon.

From here on, it was abortive coup after abortive coup for Brown with the Blairites looking to depose him on the mantra that “Brown can’t win”. And he couldn’t win – Labour lost the 2010 General Election and have been in opposition ever since. I don’t see Keir Starmer stepping into No.10 anytime soon as he’s an absolute disaster.

Blair really was a natural statesman. He had charisma, good looks and a knack for presentation.

He also had a clear, articulate vision for the party – bridging the gap between Left and Right with his Third Way mantras that mixed neo-liberalism with social democracy.

He should have stuck with being Prime Minister and being arguably the most successful in post-war times.

Instead he handed over the keys to No.10 to a grumpy groucher of a man. It was the Blair-Brown deal that killed New Labour and Brown was the nail in the coffin.

Opinion articles featured on Redaction Report reflect the views of their author, not those of the publication as a whole. Only Editorials display the opinions of our management.

Featured Image: Policy Network @WikimediaCommons (CC BY 2.0)

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