Sunday, 11 May 2008

Gordon's "Shakira moment"

It's when, in "The Man who would be King", Sean Connery, as Danny Dravot, the adventurer playing god, is bitten by Shakira Caine, the wife of his co-star Michael - Freudian overtones, there - and is seen to lose blood. The girl (named Roxanne in the film, but anonymous in the Kipling original) has been selected by the priests as the queen demanded by the god-king to keep him warm during the winter months and to provide a king's son, but she is frightened. At his first embrace, she panics.

Kipling writes: "‘The slut’s bitten me!’ says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and, sure enough, his hand was red with blood [...] while the priests howls in their lingo,—‘Neither god nor devil but a man!’".

After that, the game is up, and the adventurers lose their hold over the tribe. Dravot is beheaded and his henchman barely escapes with his life to tell the tale.

For Margaret Thatcher, the moment when people realised that she was neither god, nor devil, but a woman, came during the resignation speech of Port Talbot boy, Sir Geoffrey Howe. It was not so much the resignation, nor the contents of the speech but the fact that the whole of the back-benches found itself able to laugh with him and at her, which made her appear fallible.

Gordon Brown's Shakira moment was his abandonment of the 2007 autumn election. Up until then, he had been the inevitable successor to Tony Blair, the "greatest chancellor of the exchequer we ever had" according to one idolatrous Labour MP.

Embarking on the election plan was like Dravot's scheme for marriage, a tactic too far. It must have looked tempting: use the honeymoon period enjoyed by a new leader to renew Labour's mandate for another four or five years, carrying the party over the rocky financial period Brown could see coming. The gloss was beginning to come off the Cameron leadership, and electoral defeat might see yet more blood-letting in the Tory party.

Reality must have bitten with the latest private polling for the Labour party. At that stage, I believe that they did not show a Conservative lead. Rather, they would have pointed to a Labour victory, but with a majority so small that Brown would have been as dependent as Callaghan on other parties to stay in power in the face of the inevitable revolts by members of his own party.

The retreat was almost as bad. All of a sudden, David Cameron was validated. Brown's misjudgements as chancellor, like auctioning gold at the bottom of the market, were recalled. After years of being kept in the shadows because of his pro-EU views, Ken Clarke was allowed by the Tories to come forward and claim credit for the economic miracle of Labour's early years.

There are signs that the credit drought in the US is ending. Sir Menzies Campbell, on "Question Time", opined that the improvement in the domestic credit market would be felt over here before the next election. So Labour's stock may rise from the lows hit during the 2008 local elections, but the party - in spite of its history of reluctance to behead the leadership - will hope to go into the next election with a new god-king.

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