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Sunday 04 October 2009

Why Mrs Brown should have skipped the heroics

You won't see Samantha Cameron doing a Michelle Obama, predicts Ruth Dudley Edwards

It's weird, living in the land of Gordon Brown, control-freak and squanderer of our taxes. In the satirical magazine Private Eye, he is known as the Supreme Leader, who fortnightly issues a Stalinist Decree. Sample: 'Comrades, we must be united and particularly on our guard against our enemies within who would seek to overthrow the Supreme Leader and replace him with a stooge, a puppet of the Blairite Tendency, who would take orders directly from the hated former leader, ex-Comrade Blair.'

Funnier is The Broonites --its parody of the Scottish comic strip The Broons -- which features Pa Broon and his despairing acolytes, who sit about wailing "Jing ma crivins" and "Help ma boab" as Pa becomes ever more unreasonable and further desperate crises loom. In the latest episode Ed Broon (Brown's protege, the awful Ed Balls) and Hilary Broon (earnest son of Tony Benn) are asking the optician if Pa's eyesight is really deteriorating. "Aye," he explains, "ye ken no matter how hard he tries, he cannae read the writin' on the wall." Pa, gazing at 'YOU ARE DOOMED' in enormous letters, is grimly chanting 'Z . . . Q . . . X . . . T?'

There are few -- even among his Cabinet -- that don't believe Labour will crash in the election that Brown has to call by June 2010. Morale slumped further when -- just before the conference began -- the BBC's Andrew Marr, probably the most trusted political journalist in Britain, asked the Prime Minister if it was true that the sight of his only working eye was deteriorating and he was on prescription pills (code for anti-depressants). A shaken Brown denied everything, though unconvincingly, for the stories about his sight problems, his black moods and his terrible tantrums are legion.

To the rescue first came Peter Mandelson who, after years of bitter enmity and exile, has become Brown's Keeper. "Electorally, we are in the fight of our lives," he stirringly told the conference. "And, yes, we start that fight as underdogs. But conference, let me say this. If I can come back . . . we can come back.''

The speech cheered the faithful no end, as did Sarah Brown's smooth and skilful introduction of her husband. Yet though her encomium went down well with the party, it nauseated many television viewers. Brown despises consumerism, yet in an effort to sell him to a world obsessed with celebrity, his wife dons an ensemble costing four figures and apes the Michelle Obama method of marketing the husband.

The trick is to say the husbands have unimportant and rather loveable faults and then move into the paean of praise. So where Obama "never picks up his socks or underwear. He never did the housework and left wet towels on the bathroom floor", but is brilliant, dedicated and a wonderful husband and father, Brown "is no saint. He's messy. He's noisy. He gets up at a terrible hour" but "I know he loves our country and I know he will always, always put you first", and, indeed, is "my hero". It's a depressing reflection on our times that these two intelligent, independent women choose publicly to get themselves up like fashionistas and gush like groupies. Mary Cowen's preference for keeping her feet on the ground and her mouth shut in public has much to recommend it.

Brown's own speech disappointed. It lacked vision and bizarrely promised billions of further spending without giving any indication where the debt-laden United Kingdom is supposed to get the money. Any positive effect it produced was dwarfed by the news that the Sun -- which has a circulation of 3,000,000 -- was abandoning Labour after 12 years. The urbane Lord Mandelson, who heard this at a party given by News International, the paper's proprietors, claims he addressed his hosts as "chumps", but that is not quite the epithet anyone else remembers. Brown's contribution was to lose his temper on television the following morning. Jing ma crivins, indeed.

Labour was supposed to come out of conference having recaptured its sparkle, sown distrust of the evil Tories and secured a bounce in the opinion polls -- as the Lib Dems had after their shindig the previous week. Instead, they are more embattled than ever and are at war with the media just as the Conservatives assemble in Manchester.

Two predictions: Samantha Cameron, though she designs expensive stationery and handbags for a living, will be dressed from chain-stores and will not stand up to reassure the faithful that though David puts the butter-knife in the marmalade, he is otherwise compassionate, capable and caring. If there's one thing the Tories are good at these days, it's learning from the mistakes of Gordon Brown and his government.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards