Gordon Brown’s political strategy has finally been exposed. Tories have spent the last ten weeks wondering if they had misjudged Gordon Brown. But now he has unwittingly revealed that far from adopting a ‘new kind of politics’, he’s using classic old politics to try to skewer the Tories.
In his article for this newspaper last Saturday, David Cameron used a phrase which jumped out at me. He wrote: “We face an opponent whose aim is not just to beat the Conservative Party, but destroy it.” In other words, the Conservative Party faces a Goebbels-esque onslaught of ‘total war’. At least the Tories know now what they are up against and can plan accordingly.
A few weeks ago, Tory foreign affairs spokesman Keith Simpson circulated his annual summer reading list to Conservative MPs. The first two books on the list were Tom Bower’s biography of Gordon Brown and Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s Young Stalin. Their close proximity on the list was no coincidence. It was former Cabinet Secretary Andrew Turnbull who first accused Gordon Brown of "Stalinist ruthlessness" and a "cynical view of mankind and his colleagues". Even left of centre commentators such as Andrew Rawnsley are now using the analogy.
Conservatives should make no mistake. Brown is the most ruthless Prime Minister of this country since Francis Urquhart, Michael Dobbs’ Machiavellian PM in House of Cards. Last week he likened himself to Margaret Thatcher as a conviction politician. It was a cheek of monumental proportions, but in one sense he was unwittingly accurate. His main conviction is that he will stay as Prime Minister come what may.
Brown’s invite to Lady Thatcher to visit him in Number Ten yesterday was a calculated attempt to rub David Cameron’s nose in it. He knew the Gummer/Goldsmith Quality of Life Commission Report would intensely annoy Tory traditionalists, and by appearing with her on the steps of Number Ten he was implicitly saying to them: “I recognize Lady Thatcher’s achievements. I can be ‘one of us’”. But he may have overreached himself.
Good military strategists don’t give the game away as cheaply as Gordon Brown though. It only dawned on the Tories that he was hell bent on destroying them when he managed to lure the ‘three unwise monkeys’ of John Bercow, Patrick Mercer and Johann Eliasch into his so-called big tent. I’ve yet to meet a Tory who isn’t incandescent at what these three did. It is incredible that three intelligent individuals couldn’t understand the political game which was being played out. Brown couldn’t believe his luck when they agreed to become his useful idiots.
It was, though, a pyrrhic victory, for it revealed to Cameron and the political commentariat that Brown would stop at nothing to gain a short term party political advantage. But you have to give Brown his due. He pounced just at the right time.
I still believe Gordon Brown’s best chance of winning an election is to call it as soon as possible. Why? Because to misquote the famous Labour anthem – things can only get worse. Every politician’s honeymoon only lasts so long, and for Brown’s to have lasted ten weeks means that he needs to cash in while the going is still good. Most of what Conservative Campaign HQ has done in the last few weeks has been an attempt to deflect him from doing just that. So far with success.
But they now need to change tack. David Cameron needs to show he’s back and this time it’s personal. And he’s got just the man alongside him who’s been there and done it. A couple of weeks ago, David Cameron said he would get into a bare knuckle fight with Gordon Brown to protect the NHS. That phrase was widely attributed it to Andy Coulson, Cameron’s new Director of Communications. Coulson had a quiet start to the job. He did what most good managers do when they take on a new job – he sat quietly and observed. That period is now over.
Coulson’s message to David Cameron, and indeed the whole Conservative party must be this: Gordon Brown is out to destroy you. It’s no good adopting a defensive strategy. You can’t just defend your ground. The best form of defence is attack and you must go in all guns blazing. This means total commitment, total war. Those who aren’t up for the fight of their lives, let them depart now.
Gordon Brown does not yet believe the next election is in the bag, but among his foot-soldiers you can smell the stench of complacency. They believe the last couple of months have shown that Cameron’s appeal has faded. Before Labour supporters are shocked out of their own complacency David Cameron must demonstrate that they are in for the fight of their lives. The next four weeks, I believe, will determine the course of politics for the foreseeable future.
Expect David Cameron to display a hitherto unforeseen anger. Expect more aggression. Expect bare knuckled fights on all sorts of issues – not just the NHS.
Clear blue water is at last starting to emerge between a control freak short termist headline grabbing Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition who is playing the long game, but realises he now has to fight for the ultimate goal.