The Queen has dissolved Parliament, and the United Kingdom is now in election season. After three years running the country, few Americans seem to know much about Gordon Brown, the soon to be former Prime Minister of Great Britain. What’s his story, and what does it tell us about failures of the so-called “Third Way” Baby Boomer politics? First a brief recap of British politics in the 20th century.
Basically, Britain has been a two-party nation for a very long time. Before the 1930s, the two parties were the Liberals and the Conservatives. After the working class of the Europe was sent to kill each other on behalf of the aristocrats, monarchs, and imperialists in World War I, people got disgusted with their national elites and started voting for socialist and labor parties (usually allied or started by trade unions). This almost happened in America, but Woodrow Wilson and Attorney General Palmer smashed the Socialist Party of the United States with the first “Red Scare.” Now the two major parties are the Labour Party and the Conservative Party (aka “the Tories”). The Liberals never disappeared but became a marginal third party that got around 15% of the vote.
Then they found a golden boy named Tony Blair
Rise of Tony Blair
Tony Blair never really believed in socialism even though he was first elected in the 1983 Conservative landslide when Labour made its most socialist party platform. After its 1994 defeat, John Smith was the Labour leader. Since the Conservatives had been in power since 1979, and people were so tired of the divisiveness and corruption of the Tories, it was assumed that Labour would win with whomever in the next election. Then John Smith had a heart attack and died. Tony Blair made a run for the leadership position promising to get rid of all the socialist nonsense in the party and remaking the Labour Party into a Clintonite “Third Way” party.
But Gordon Brown was supposed to be the next Labour Party leader. He grew up in Scotland, a Labour stronghold, and wrote his PhD about the history of the Labour Party. He was utterly brilliant: he went to university at 16, got his PhD by 23, and was elected president of his university at 21. But he was an awkward intellectual and not an airbrushed media product like American politicians habitually are. Tony Blair, the first American-style politician in Britain, gained popularity with his youthful good looks and charming tongue. It looked like he would beat Brown in a leadership contest in a party desperate to win after almost twenty years in exile from government.
So they cut a deal. At Granita restaurant in Islington, Gordon Brown agreed to not to run and let Tony Blair become leader and prime minister for two terms. After two terms, Blair would retire and let Brown become Prime Minister. In the meantime, Gordon Brown would be Chancellor of the Exchequer and run the nation’s economy making him the second-most important person in Britain. Tony Blair would take care of all political and foreign affairs. It was a political marriage.
It went really nice at the start of it. Labour won two landslide elections, the economy boomed, the health care system got lots of investment after years of neglect, and times were good.
Blair backstabs, Brown
Tony Blair, as well all know now, famously fell in love with George W. Bush and his idiotic invasion of Iraq. Blair, one of the most popular politicians in British history, soon became one of the most despised. The public considered him a media-obsessed liar who would do anything to please George Bush. Tony Blair, after the invasion of Iraq, then backstabs Gordon Brown by running for a third term, breaking his promise. Brown is furious, but Blair (like Bush) wins despite all the anti-Iraq sentiment. Two years into his 2005-2010 term, Brown and the Cabinet push Blair out.
After years of neoliberal rule by the closet rightist, Tony Blair, the Labour faithful were pleased to see a true Labour leader run the country. The troops would be pulled out of Iraq, unnecessary kissing up to Bush would end, and the nation could focus on closing the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Gordon Brown was the enlightened philosopher-king… instead he ended up being another Hamlet.
Gordon Brown was ready to call an election in the fall of 2007 to win an election in his own right. Instead he backed off and waited until this month. In the meantime, the economy he was in charge of watching over as Chancellor completely imploded. He was vilified for his boast that he had “ended boom and bust.” Blair and Brown had laughed at the silly Continental European idea of preserving manufacturing and bought into the American economic strategy of outsourcing all industry and focusing heavily on banking and real estate. There was even a bit of Dubai-foolishness as favorable tax laws encouraged rich people from the Gulf and Russia to move to London. Wealth became highly skewed (I saw a report saying that one-third of salaries in the UK go to just 10% of bankers in London) while Blairites obsessed over how to privatize anything in sight…. even the London Underground subway system! Somehow the Labour Party forgot all about the little guy they were suppose to be fighting for.
End of Gordon Rex
The philosopher-king’s days are numbered. He got screwed by his buddy Tony, but he also screwed himself by blindly following American free market fundamentalism. Now unemployment is rising, the economy won’t budge, unions are striking to save jobs, the deficit is worse than Greece’s, and the banks had to be nationalized.
Don’t shed tears over Gordon Rex on May 6th; he never fought the good fight when he was needed (Iraq, financial supervision), he played cheap politics to impress the tabloids (re-criminalizing cannabis), and he hesitated when decisions needed to be made (calling an early election). This unelected ruler is a waste of brainpower and talent.
President Obama, please take note of his tale.
The Economist – “Gordon Brown: Day of the Spider”
The Nation – “Britain’s Winter of Discontent“