Saturday, June 30, 2007

Enthusiasm and Brains

A week is a long time in politics, so the old saying goes. Sadly, it is some time now since this dictum has been akin to saying a Ford is a fast car. We have speeded up so much that a mouse click is the only suitable micro-measurement for catastrophe.

But this week has been a long time coming, and it seems a long time since Monday already. Tony Blair ended his numerous encores, and took a final bow in the Commons on Wednesday. Gordon Brown ended ten years of nail-biting impatience by moving into the prime ministerial hot seat. And, within forty-eight hours, a plot to welcome the new cabinet with two large nail bombs planted in central London was mercifully averted. This time.

But as Blair is carried towards the Middle East on the froth of popularity, and Brown drifts into Downing Street on a tide of Protestant work-ethic, I’m struck by how perfectly they represent the Gog and Ma-Gog of reform.

The revolutionary of the sixties was the angry young man. Now, of course, anger is a strictly unfashionable passion; the in-thing is earnestness. Tony Blair paved his reforms with the dubious hardcore of good intentions, promising to clean up the nasty little mess left behind by the corrupt Tories. That is why, after exempting Formula 1 from the cigarette advertising ban - at the request of Labour Party donor, Bernie Eccleston, Formula 1 Mogul and millionaire - Blair had to assure us all he was a ‘straight kinda guy’. Oh, well that’s alright then. We baulk at twisted Tory politicians who try to trick us, but straight-kinda-guy Labour politicians can deceive us with our blessing. He was the ‘people’s prime minister’ because he meant well. He stood alongside President Bush in his war on terror and really truly, madly, deeply believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which could be delivered to the West on scooter in 45 minutes. Oh, and by the way, if hundreds of people die in Iraq every day, we must remember that Saddam has been removed from power. Freedom to be blown up: just like in London. By June 2007, Britain might have been flooded with Tony’s good wishes were it not already flooded with unseasonably high precipitation. His latest mission as Middle East envoy approaches Roy-of-the-Rovers levels of fantasy self-fulfilment. Appointing Tony as a Middle East envoy is a bit like having Sid Vicious as a school learning assistant. Perhaps - let's face it - that is what is wanted by those who have appointed him: I mean, if Good Envoy Tone cannot solve the problems of the Middle East, only war can. How else can we understand such a spectacularly obtuse choice of envoy? I'm sure it's done with good intentions. In any case, Tony’s enthusiasm is like having his political ballies up; nobody can touch him. Let’s hope none of those nail bombers try.

And now for Gordon (queue morose bagpipes) who arrives in what I assume is a Brownian motion, with all the puffiness of a heavily constipated pig and a reputation for elephantine intelligence and porcupine sensitivity. His mantra, as he stood before No.10 on Wednesday was, ‘change, change, change’. Note the chicanery. Ten years of Labour government have put them alongside the Greeks in their contribution to civilization. But we now need change, change, change. Why? Because that is how a massive bureaucracy justifies itself, with ever greater rationalization, even if it makes the appropriate genuflexions towards decentralization. But Brown wants technocracy too; he can ignore the people if their leaders are clever and brilliant … like Gordon himself. Blair belaboured us with his unrelenting goody-two-shoes enthusiasm; Brown will overwhelm us with his illumined, startling braininess. ‘Brilliant intellect’ is one of the de rigueur phrases to be included in all Brown profiles. Blair’s intentions were so good, nobody sound could disagree with them. Brown’s plans will be so clever, nobody sound will be able to naysay them.

So, here we have them, the Gog and Ma-Gog of reform: Blair the demagogue (now, perhaps the oligogue) and Brown the technocrat. Blair means death by enthusiasm. Brown means death by petrifaction.

And this is what freedom means: choosing how you will die. Just ask the people in Iraq.