The Clarion is far from qualified to know whether it is a good thing, but the whiff coming from across the Ocean, the smell of the stew that is May 2007 British politics, it is vaguely familiar. The Clarion finds it oddly reminiscent of a smell that drifted down from north of the border in the second half of 2003.
At that time long serving Minister of Finance, intellectual, and fiscal policy guru, Paul Martin was preparing to takeover the Premiership of Canada from his equally long serving political bugbear nee partner Jean Chrétien. Martin had done nine years as Minister of Finance under Prime Minister Chrétien. He had recieved much credit as the architect of economic policies that had led to a period of sustained growth, low unemployment and reasonably low inflation. Just as Martin was heading into office, the macroeconomic, especially, the budgetary, numbers took a turn for the worse. Martin served just over twenty-seven inglorious months as Prime Minister as compared to Chrétien’s decade in power.
It is the Clarion’s contention that much the same thing is about to happen when Gordon Brown succeeds Tony Blair as head of the Labor Party and Prime Minister of Great Britian. In a slightly softening economic environment, as budget deficits balloon with the costs of the British missions to Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown will be damaged goods. In no more than three years, it is the Clarion’s belief that the Tory party will be returned to power in Britian after more than a decade in the wilderness, much as the united right wing, now under the rubric of the Conservative Party, has been ushered into power in Ottawa after thirteen years on the outside looking in.
Both men’s standing was affected by their predecessors long stays in office. Their countries had grown weary of rule by the same party. Both men were victims of their own success; long term fiscal stability, led them to move away from their initial fiscal prudence and budgetary restraint. Less sound budgets, burdened by large increases in social services spending showed little tangible result, but increased middle class tax burdens and voter disillusionment. On another level they were victims of their own success because the citizens of Canada and Great Britian began to see economic prosperity as a given, not a variable. In the light of that perception, even slight wobbles seemed blame worthy and who better to fault than the ascending finance ministers. (With Paul Martin this scenario has already played out, with Gordon Brown it is still in process.)
There are some specific differences in the Brown-Martin parallels. Martin was damaged severely by a Liberal Party financial scandal that occured under his predecessor, Chrétien. This pay for no work, “Sponsorship”, scandal was rooted in often turbulently nationalist Quebec. Brown has no such Labor Party finance finagles to deal with, but is hurt by his own background and connection to Scotland. While Scotland is by no means as seccessionist as Quebec, it is certainly nearly as distinctive within Britian as Quebec is within Canada. Brown’s ascent is occuring at a time of peak Scottish agitation for autonomy and increased English disdain for such. Brown’s Scottishness has been labelled unreconstructed by mainstream British media.
Both Brown and Martin, and their core party supporters, have had rocky relationships with their respective Prime Ministers and their backers. Both cabinet members were accused of pushing from the Prime Minister’s job long before they got it. Martin actually began his rift with Chrétien in an open fight for party leadership. Brown and Blair made a private deal to avoid this scenario, but Gordon’s people have chaffed under Blair as much or more than Martin’s did under Chrétien. Unlike Brown, Martin fell out completely with Chrétien and resigned or was pushed from the cabinet. At the time, the politcal pundits thought this was a good thing, that this would help him positively distance himself from Chrétien.
Brown, who didn’t fall out or resign, is also hurt by a personal reputation as dour and difficult. These negative perceptions extend from the voting public, where currently only a quarter of the voting public see Mr. Brown as the best, next, Prime Minister to within the political elite, where Brown is perceived as arrogant, difficult and less than a team player even by the civil service. He is considered almost Cheney-esque in his favor for like minded “yes”-men who owe their political patronage completely to him.
Certainly unlike Cheney, and even unlike Blair, Brown came up a true blue lefty, a believer in social justice, equity and fairness over efficiency and the market. The Clarion believes it is not a zero sum choice. Nor, despite the smell, is Mr. Brown’s fate already written.