Opinion: It’s all very well agreeing now Gordon, but after 13 years how can your party be the change we need?

I think Nick is right – we need change”
Gordon Brown to Andrew Marr (18th April 2010)

Gordon Brown keeps agreeing with Nick Clegg but he doesn’t seem to understand where this agreement is leading. It leads directly to the following question, for the man who now admits he has had one damascene experience after another: “How can you or your party be the change we need?”

Gordon Brown has long had trouble reading the runes (and much else besides). He says he has been appalled by dishonest dealing in the City. He admits that he personally should have done better in reforming financial regulation. And he now accepts that he was naive in uncritically accepting what he was told about the benefits of light touch regulation.

Of course there is a big problem with this. The dodgy dealing was going on in full view and on his watch (the longest watch of modern times). He had the best Treasury brains at his side and unrivalled market intelligence (if he had asked for it and he had been prepared to use it).

In fact he was told in no uncertain terms that lending was out of control and that financial regulation had been dangerously weakened. Mervyn King told him (and unaccountably went quiet shortly afterwards). Vince Cable told him (and was warned, by Gordon Brown himself, for mischievously trying to alarm the public and influence the press). As for Mr Brown, he was the Chancellor who didn’t seem to be paying attention. Mervyn King and Vince Cable were not the only ones issuing him with warnings. That old saying ‘none are so blind as those that will not see’ comes to mind.

Gordon Brown now claims that the case for constitutional reform and voting change is unanswerable; unanswerable because of disgraceful behaviour at Westminster. The behaviour at the Palace – the Palace of Westminster, he now tells us, shocked and appalled him. Of course it was behaviour that went on under his very nose. His olfactory machinery also seems to have been severely compromised.

If he was truly as ignorant, as he now says he was, about what was going on at the Palace of Westminster, especially in his own party, he cannot be the man to lead reform. If he knew but took the view that discretion was the better part of valour he is no better qualified to lead reform.

And he, Mr. Brown, simply does not seem to grasp the plain truth. He had his chance – an extraordinarily lengthy period in charge, when he had a very special opportunity to lead change at Westminster – and he did much worse than simply fluff his lines.

And, when it came to the illegal and unwise war in Iraq, he – Gordon Brown, really cannot hide his failure (or his shame). He cannot credibly insist that he did not know – that no one, whose judgement and knowledge he could trust, told him what was really going on.

One of his closest political colleagues, Robin Cook, told him – in cabinet and out. Robin Cook told him how deeply the case for war was flawed and how great the risks of joining in an illegal war were. It is clear that Mr Brown decided it wasn’t convenient to listen to what Robin Cook had to say about a shoddy political fix, heaped high with danger, which had been designed to meet the short-term exigencies of the transatlantic alliance.

Gordon Brown arrived too late to be the inspiration for Upton Sinclair’s oft quoted observation that: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it”, but he is surely one of the very best exemplifications of it.

He may – as he now protests he does – know that the financial system needs fundamental reform, that parliament and British voting system need fundamental reform, and that a good ally has no real choice but to be a serious and an honest partner in reforming international governance. But Gordon Brown cannot credibly claim that he is the change we need to make such fundamental reforms possible.

* Ed Randall, a Liberal Democrat councillor in the London Borough of Greenwich from 1982 to 1998, edited the Dictionary of Liberal Thought jointly with Duncan Brack. Ed lectures on Politics and Risk at Goldsmiths University of London and is the author of Food, Risk and Politics, published by Manchester University Press in 2009.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Philip Young 18th Apr '10 - 6:33pm

    What you seem to be saying:

    “If you are part of the problem, you can’t be part of the sollution. “

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Apr '10 - 6:43pm

    “Gordon Brown has long had trouble reading the runes (and much else besides).”

    That’s pretty contemptible.

  • Philip – I couldn’t have put it better myself, and I tried.

    Anthony Aloysius St – you know (or should know) very well what is meant…but, quite typically judging by so many of your posts here, you have chosen to misinterpret it. I’d call that juvenile.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Apr '10 - 8:19pm


    Well, if you _weren’t_ referring to the fact that Gordon Brown is partially sighted and has difficulty reading, you must have been giving remarkably little thought to what you were writing.

    And I’m not at all impressed by the fact that your first reaction when someone criticises you is to start calling them names. I scarcely think that puts you in a position to describe other people as juvenile!

  • Anthony, I’m glad that you have decided do disavow what would otherwise be a remarkable ability to read other people’s minds.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Apr '10 - 8:48pm


    All I can say is that if it really didn’t occur to you that Gordon Brown was partially sighted and had difficulty reading when you wrote “Gordon Brown has long had trouble reading the runes (and much else besides)”, you must be one of the most mind-bogglingly thoughtless people on the planet.

    And if that was the case, perhaps some kind of acknowledgment that your post could have been better phrased would have been more appropriate than sarcasm and name-calling.

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