Gordon Brown is going to be a teacher, we are told. The Prime Minister has said that he is fed up with the trappings of power and is already setting his moral compass for a new career in public service. But would Brown be any good as a teacher? Can you imagine him standing up before a class of fifteen year olds at Kirkcaldy High School, inspiring them with lectures on post neo-classical endogenous growth theory? Mind you, given the current state of the jobs market, he’d be lucky to get a job, since there are currently three candidates in Scotland for each permanent post.
Good teachers are supposed to possess empathy, an ability to tap into the emotional sensibilities of students. But as we the PM has the empathy of a speak your weight machine. He’d spend most of his time organising focus groups to find out what the pupils are thinking and then hiring PR men to tell him how to sell trigonometry. Then he’d probably start phoning his benighted students at home at six am and sending them endless Twitter tweets and Facebook pokes. God help them.
Look, I don’t want to be cruel here. Brown is a very easy target right now and it’s not very sporting to kick the man when he is down. But the trouble is that everything the PM does right now just cries out for a kicking because it is so contrived. Does anyone really think Brown intends to teach? Of course not. His PR advisers have told him that he needs to show the people that he is down to earth, on their planet, and isn’t just going to end up earning a huge salary in a bank, as his predecessor Tony Blair has done, after he leaves office. That’s why Brown is talking about being a teacher, when everyone knows that if he has anything do do with education it will be as a trophy-academic for some prestigious American University. And he will still take on that lucrative job in a bank, or the IMF or some other financial post, so that he can ‘pay the rent’ while he ‘teaches’. The whole thing is a media stunt.
Ditto appearing on Songs of Praise. Brown has given an interview for the God slot in which he talks about courage, not a quality he has demonstrated very convincingly in the expenses row. Brown has never been more excruciating than when he is playing at ‘son of the manse’. The whole ‘moral compass’ stuff was supposed to evoke in the public mind the image of a stolid dog-collared kirk minister, smelling slightly of mothballs and furniture polish, incapable of doing anything dishonest or corrupt. The antidote to the glitz and sleaze of the Blair years. But does Brown even go to church, except when he is making speeches about morality? I’m pretty sure we’d have seen the photographs and he has no history of overt religiosity. Like quoting his school motto outside Number Ten, it’s the kind of thing public relations people think makes people trust politicians. But it doesn’t – it just makes them embarrassed.
Like that call about Susan Boyle – the Prime Minister’s cringe worthy announcement that he had telephoned Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan to ask after the health of the Bathgate chanteuse. Like his crying on Sky TV. Like the Prime Minister’s painfully contrived attempts to show that he is in touch with popular culture with new technology like You Tube and Twitter – though needless to say his tweets are written by a public relations man in Number Ten. That You Tube appearance before the expenses row was a marvellous demonstration of the damage done by media training. I’ve never understood why senior politicians spend large sums of money hiring ex television people to make them look ridiculous.
Brown was told that he was too loud and hectoring and that he didn’t smile enough. So he has started to speak in a semi-audible whisper and taken to plastering goofy grins on his face at inappropriate moments. Even his teeth look inauthentic, like those mechanical hand gestures when he speaks. All this stuff is supposed to help Brown connect with the voters at a subliminal level, but it is all so patently insincere that it merely evokes mild disgust, like a someone who is trying too hard to be liked. Everything Brown says or does seems to come from the mind of some mischievous public relations gremlin – a kind of anti-spin doctor that makes the prime minister do the reverse of what would be appropriate in any given situation. Perhaps the gremlin is Baron with the initials PM.
Of course, image wouldn’t matter if Brown were a decisive and effective leader, but he is not. Brown dithers and equivocates, blown hither and yon by his attempts to please everyone at once. He could have pre-empted the whole disastrous expenses affair by confronting his avaricous ministers and MP and insisting that all of them made a full declaration of their expenses on line, as in the Scottish parliament. This would have been difficult, explosive even, but it would have been the right thing to do, and it would have begun the process of restoring public confidence. Instead Brown tried to ‘move on’ by promising the greatest constitutional reforms in a generation – just as he did before, when he took over in Number Ten. Nothing came of that either.
Then there is the Iraq inquiry, which Brown intends to hold in secret, against even the advice of the former head of the army and the former head of the civil service. Here is a politician who hasn’t the courage even to face up to the truth of why we went to war. Who professes to be unable to tell a lie and yet won’t admit that cuts in public spending are clearly set out in the government’s own budget forecasts. Who is borrowing £20 billion a month without any idea of how the debt will ever be paid. Who condemns immorality in banking as if he had no part in devising the ‘light touch’ regulation that let the City off the leash.
Brown’s one great and undoubted strength is his tenacity. He just won’t give in. Sadly, it’s the one thing he is really good at.