Brown in Brighton
The Labour strategists gathering in Brighton must be poring over the German election results this evening. A distinctly uncharismatic leader at the time of a deep economic recession has persuaded her countrymen to return her to power with an increased majority. How did Angela Merkel do it? And can Gordon Brown repeat the trick next May or June?
Admittedly, Merkel is a conservative whose main opposition happened to share government with her over the past four years. But if the recession is meant to make incumbents shaky the world over, she has magnificently bucked the trend. Germans feel reassured by her leadership and her solutions. Labour must be wishing they had a leader of even a quarter of that level of competence.
For as they gather for their pre-election conference, delegates are greeted by a desperate cry from a normally quiet Chancellor. Alistair Darling tells the Observer today that Labour has seemingly "lost the will to live". The damning thing about his assessment is that (a) it comes from a man not normally given to over-statement, and (b) it happens to be true.
The strange thing is that it really doesn't need to be like this. If Brown had any real leadership abilities at all, he should be able to devise not only a suitable defence of his own actions during the worst of the recession - after all, he was applauded by a Nobel prize-winning economist - but he should be able to handily expose the Tories' genuine policy vacuum. Fronted by the charming Mr. Cameron, there is still plenty of reason to be suspicious of the Tories' cut and slash tendencies, of their innate right-wing bunkerism, of the lasting presence in their party of so many activists who just, really, don't much like the human race. That Brown can't land his punches is a wider sign of his lamentable failure in the position he fought and plotted and schemed so hard for so long to get. He is politically tone deaf, he is a centraliser par excellence, and he is possessed of a caution so painful it's surprising he ever manages to cross the road on his own. Can he use the conference to stir things up and make a fight of the next few months? Somehow I doubt it, but stranger things can happen.