Gordon shows his hand
MORE substance, less style. That's the promise Gordon Brown made the Labour Party yesterday as he faces up to becoming leader.Or in other words: “I'm making the best of a bad job” knowing that when it comes to the charisma stakes, he can compete neither with Tony Blair nor, and more importantly, the new Conservative leader David Cameron.
By Graham Dines
MORE substance, less style. That's the promise Gordon Brown made the Labour Party yesterday as he faces up to becoming leader.
Or in other words: “I'm making the best of a bad job” knowing that when it comes to the charisma stakes, he can compete neither with Tony Blair nor, and more importantly, the new Conservative leader David Cameron.
Does it matter? Do the public really care what eight discs he would take to a desert island or from which tailor he buys his suits?
Unfortunately, the public does - especially the under 30s, whose votes are likely to determine the outcome of the next election.
Gordon Brown is no plodder. He's sincere in his belief in social justice. His policies have delivered tens of thousands of children and pensioners out of poverty.
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But he does not have that certain something. He is not an “It” man. He is not a style icon.
And in today's television world and the era of intrusive tabloids and glossy celebrity magazines, that's a distinct handicap, which he knows he has to overcome.
In his conference speech, he acknowledged this and tried to make light of it.
“If I thought the future of politics was just about celebrity and not about something more substantial, I wouldn't be in politics.
“If being in public life becomes about image above all else, then I don't believe politics would be serving the public.
“It will be no surprise to you to learn I'm more interested in the future of the Arctic Circle than the future of he Arctic Monkeys.”
He said he saw politics as a service because “it is through service that you can make a difference and you can help people change their lives.”
It was essentially a highly personal speech, endeavouring to unveil the man behind the rarely smiling mask. “I don't romanticise my upbringing” he claimed - but couldn't help spooning in big servings of his parents and his upbringing.
His father, a minister of the church, was motivated not by theological zeal but compassion. His mother taught her children that whatever talents they had, they should use them.
And he was taught to live by a moral compass. “It was a simple faith with a fundamental optimism.
“My parents were more than an influence, they were - and still are - my inspiration. The reason I am in politics.
“All I believe and all I try to do comes from the values I learned from them.
“They believed in duty, responsibility, and respect for others. They believed in duty, responsibility and hard work, and that the things that matter had to be worked so.”
The picture he was painting was of a dour but loving existence in the Presbyterian manse, surrounded by “books, sports, music and encouragement” which others at his school were denied and thus fell behind.
Fast forward to today, and Gordon Brown said these qualities should be upper most in everything that Labour does. “The Labour Party must stand for more than a programme: we must have a soul.”
If this was a rebuke for the current state of the party and Tony Blair, it was hardly subtle. The Blairs with their flash friends, their love for luxury holidays, their fast lifestyles.
Yet it wasn't just Tony Blair in his sights, it was the person he will have to take on and best if does become Prime Minister.
“I know where I come from, what I believe and what I can contribute. I am confident that my experiences and my values give me the strength to take the tough decisions.”
And then came the punch line. “I would relish to take on David Cameron and the Conservative.”
Cameron's new Tories that is - the metrosexual, environmentally conscious, public serving Tories which the reborn again Conservatives have metamorphosed into since Notting Hill's most famous resident shook his party to the core and turned it into the darling of the chatterers.
Gordon Brown was telling his party to forget the gluts. Peel away the Tory style and there's no socially aware substance underneath.
It's not a speech Mr Brown would have dared deliver if Tony Blair hadn't said he was about to stand down. But with the inhibitions lifted from him, Gordon Brown could show the party they type of man they would be electing to replace the Prime Minister.
He was cheered to the rafters when he said: bring on the Tories. But while there was warm, sustained applause at the end, there was no cheering or hollering from the delegates.
It was a speech good enough to deliver him the leadership. Gordon Brown will be the next Prime Minister. In truth, there is probably no viable alternative. And the trade unions like him.
It's one thing captivating your party. But it's a different story when it comes to the country. And one suspects the dour Scotsman will have to do much better if he is to achieve his second goal - obtaining his own mandate at a general election.