As Brown’s predictable,
but temporary, bounce pushes Labour ahead in the polls no amount of
spin or union flag wrapped policy pronouncements will be able to hide
the electorate from the Prime Minister’s underlying tragic flaw – his
In his previous post as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I
would often offer a small wager to fellow backbenchers on how quickly
the Chancellor would lose his temper at Treasury Questions. Would he "lose it" by Question 4 or 5? Few of us ever won the spoils because
invariably Brown would "lose his cool" far sooner than any of us had
predicted. Whether it was throwing papers across the despatch box at
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, or slapping down Tory MPs who dared
ask questions on tax credits, at some point during the proceedings you
could guarantee that "grumpy Gordon" would turn up.
Medical professionals say it causes pain and discomfort; symptoms can be mild and then suddenly flare up.
In extremes the body can become bloated and red, there is "over activity of the nerves and muscles". These are not only the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS,) a medical condition that affects 1 in 5 of the adult population at some point in their lives, but they are also the symptoms of a condition Mr Brown has suffered from for most of his political life – Irritable Vowel Syndrome (IVS) – vowels that reach and rage and short and silence. As these Parliamentary encounters reveal, it is not Gordon’s bowels that will cause future bloating and redness, a real public spectacle, but his irascible, prickly, and very own – irritable vowel syndrome.
Next April The World Taxidermy Championships will be held in Salzburg. It might be a good investment if Gordon’s new spinmeisters send Number 10’s resident anthropologist to see what political lessons can be learnt from the animal world. Taxidermists can talk for hours on the thickness and thinness of animal skins. For example, Cottontail Rabbits are known to be very difficult to work with because their skins are so thin. Brown’s advisers need to avoid trapping ‘Cottontail Gordon’ becoming a new form of political sport.
The British electorate like politicians who are calm under fire; leaders with emotion but who steer clear of emotional decision-making; and who can take rational decisions under extreme conditions. They are less easy with politicians who are short-tempered. British Prime Ministers are not allowed to have thin skins!
Despite the disappearance of the glaring red Daks ties, unless addressing the Labour Party faithful, and the appearance of blue, soft Tory, pastel ties, Brown cannot mask his IVS condition forever. Even last week, when being interviewed on Radio 4, the scratchy symptoms flared up again. And one day soon, probably in the busy autumn, the Prime Minister’s new and calm, measured, even clergy-like mild manners, will cough, splutter, and eventually falter. When it comes, convinced old ladies will flee to the hills, babies will be hurriedly wheeled indoors from Middle England’s sodden gardens, screeching ravens will encircle Whitehall, journalists will learn to goad and probe a little harder, more Labour spin doctors will be despatched to Austria, some Tory backbencher will have won a wager, and Gordon’s seal of tranquility will have been broken.
Paradoxically, at a time when revisionists are trying to stop pupils being taught about the life of Churchill in history lessons, if Brown is to survive the political arrows that are certain to befall him, both day and night, he might do no better than take Churchill’s advice and develop – "a thick skin". Alternatively, Mr Brown could heed Mrs Churchill’s advice and train for "Olympic calm".
Brown’s IVS condition is serious, especially for a Prime Minister, but if treated – it need not be terminal.