10 May 2006
Is Gordon Brown another Rab Butler?
Simon Heffer has drawn an interesting parallel between R.A. (Rab) Butler in 1963 and Gordon Brown today. Basically, as Heffer reminds us, Harold MacMillan wanted to hand over the Prime Minister's office to Alec Douglas Home, a move that was opposed by Enoch Powell and Iain Macleod both of whom supported Butler's candidacy.
Heffer does not mention the fact that Butler, Powell and Macleod all agreed that none of them would serve under Home, and that this fact was conveyed to Macmillan before he went and tendered his resignation to The Queen. Macmillan understood just how brittle Butler's mettle was, and called the bluff by recomending that Her majesty send for Home. Once this was done Butler agreed to serve in the government headed by Alec Douglas Home and the whole plot to install him as Prime Minister fell apart.
The whole affair leads to one of the great questions of mid-20th century British politics: would the Tories under Butler have lost the 1964 General Election to Harold Wilson's Labour Party? Wilson only won by a whisker, and his campaign was helped by having a remote, diffident figure like Home as his opponent.
The point is that Butler showed that when the chips were down he didn't have the bottle to fight and Brown is doing the same thing now. As Heffer says, if he had told Tony Blair to take his hook or resigned on the spot, then Blair would either be out of office now or the party would have a bruising leadership battle on its hands. Such a battle would almost certainly lead to a Brown victory, given the desire in the Labour Party to have any leader but Blair.
Heffer goes on to describe Brown's behaviour as "undignified, mincing, cowardly, indeed downright unmanly. . .". That strikes this writer as a bit below the belt, and is clearly a reference to Brown's alleged homosexualist tendencies. However, those allegations were pretty well refuted when the full list of Brown's conquests - including one rather lovely Romanian princess - were revealed. Besides, even if Brown was a poof, he still looks like a Labour leader, as opposed to the git at present installed who comes over as one of Mark Oaten's rent boys.
The problem is that although Brown is a NuLab man, he still has some roots in the Labour tradition. The unions and the party's rank & file - such as it is - can expect to be able to talk to him seriously. That is not true of the Blairites that pretty boy Tony has just promoted. The longer Blair remains in office the more chance they have of seeing one of their number elected as party leader.
If Gordon Brown wants to be sure of leading the party and country, then he had better move quickly. Otherwise Lady History will dismiss him just as she dismisses Rab Butler.