As the Green-gate affair rumbles along in the background, it is hard for those of us who remember early 1970s America to ignore the parallel: an increasingly controlling Executive, fears for personal liberty – and a man at the top with serious personality dysfunction.
Richard Nixon and Gordon Brown do share striking similarities of circumstance and character.
They had puritanical backgrounds with domineering fathers, were intellectual prodigies, intensely private – and awkward in company and public. Both gave the impression of being somehow ‘not quite right’. The 1960 anti-Nixon slogan ‘Would you buy a used car from this Man?’ seemed to fit immediately; and I’ve also now lost count of the number of women who find Brown ‘odd’.
Both were manipulative in their cultivation of ‘poor me': Nixon the small-town farmboy who ‘never had it easy like the Kennedys’, and Brown the young man agonising about potentially lost sight (a fact the politician kept to himself until he needed a sympathetic leadership image). Dicky wrote about ‘Five Crises’, and Gordon continues to insist he is the best man in crises. Nixon had his Kennedy to envy, and Brown has his Blair to hate: ‘it came naturally to them, but I’ve had to work at it’ is also a shared view – displaying an obvious desire to be seen as noble and heroic.
Fellow sufferers from indecisive depression, they instinctively disappeared from the stage when blame was being assigned. They expected people to accept ridiculous explanations of dubious behaviour, and had associates who insisted they were very nice really – but swore obscenely at aides (or screamed at secretaries) in private.
The observations may perhaps be harsh, but there is something abnormally untrustworthy in the dissembling, shifty nature of these men – an ethical doubt borne out in both cases by shadows and clouds after every episode – and strangely locked cupboards where nobody may go.
Yet Brown is the man whose people are about to slip GCHQ a cool £12 billion to monitor our every website visit, email and mobile phone call. This is Dick Nixon paranoia with the new miracle technology ingredient: an attempt to use Islamism in the same way a crooked President used Vietnam .
We are the Liberal Democrats. All around me I hear soi-disant ‘realists’ saying ‘the personal liberty question doesn’t play well – the voters aren’t interested’. And I say, to Hell with the focus groups: we need to give a lead. And we need to do it far more aggressively than we are at present.
Ever since the Watergate Affair, every political scandal has become the lazy journalist’s excuse to slap ‘gate’on the end. But the arrest of Tory MP Damian Green may well at last merit that suffix.
The emerging facts have been giving me a curious case of deja vu. Say what you like, this smells bad for New Labour – and my hack’s instinct says there is rarely smell without excrement. We have a Home Secretary denying all knowledge of an operation known to others with less reason to know; we have a Leader of the House arranging secret meetings with a Speaker, overruling that Speaker with Executive subterfuge and then a Chief Whip using the familiar despicable pressures to get the vote out and defeat Opposition motions for full enclosure. If ever a person sat in utter contempt of the House of Commons, then that was Harriet Harman last week, grinning inanely as both Opposition Parties poured doubt, scorn and dismay all over her disgraceful performance….but got nowhere.
This is a government led by a man who thinks he has a Higher Authority – an arrogant and obsessively driven man who always thinks he knows best – and has established form as a man who plays the national security card as an airbrush to make his historical errors disappear. The Home Office has plenty to cover up – including (obviously) mendacious cock-ups involving people in the country who shouldn’t be here.
Last Friday, a small piece on page two of the Financial Times pointed up the increasing Conservative frustration with Gordon Brown’s persistent deferral of a promise to brief the Opposition prior to any election. The pledge (allegedly made nine months ago) said that the process in relation to some of the key fiscal and economic factors would begin on January 4th 2009. There is no sign at all of this happening, and this in turn suggests two obvious hypotheses: one, there is yet more smelly stuff the Government doesn’t want the Opposition to know; and two, Gordon plans a snap election during which most of the damning facts are unavailable to both electorate and Opposition.
Classic Nixon in 1972.
Like it or not, on current form the Lib Dems will not have enough powerful things to say in such an election. It seems to me our tax plans have confused people: the fairness distinction has been lost in the meltdown noise. We need to add this to a ‘little man’s champion’ stance. But above all, we need to hammer at the issue of defending those same ordinary folk against creeping totalitarianism.
One of our tasks, I think, should be getting the former New Labour voter to bite very hard on this undeniable reality: had Damian Green been the recipient of leaks from his Deep Throat a few years from now, GCHQ would have known about it instantly – and we would never have known about the content at all.
* John Ward is the owner and editor of www.notbornyesterday.org, a satire and advice site dedicated to promoting new ideas, better ethics and true reform of our constitution, economic model, and community policy objectives.