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Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Amateur Hour

The Blair vs. Brown punch-up appears to be spinning (in both senses of the word) out of control.

Gordon Brown has neither denied nor withdrawn his alleged statement to Blair, "There is nothing you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe." This quote should have been applied prominently to every Liberal Democrat election leaflet, although the Tories appear to have got there first.

The animosity has been an open secret in the 'Westminster village' for some years and, despite the vitriolic briefing and counter-briefing by both men's gangs, had not really impinged on the national consciousness.

Not any more. The publication of Robert Peston's book
Brown's Britain, serialised in the Sunday Telegraph, seems to have burst the dam. The Labour Party may be able to effect sticking plaster repairs until the general election but, soon afterwards, the situation must surely be resolved one way or the other.

The basic problem, however, is not personality clashes but incompetence. An excellent
article by Simon Jenkins in today's Times explains just how shambolic the government is.

"The truth is that neither Mr Blair nor Mr Brown seems able to manage their clashes in ways familiar in any normal organisation. They watch 'Yes, Minister' when they should be watching 'The Office'."
This failure has been masked by Tony Blair's public relations machine, in particular the technique of co-opting the language of competence. Admittedly, this was not difficult when the comparison was with Michael Foot. But eight years on from Blair's victory, we should not be afraid to take the words 'piss-up', 'brewery' and 'organise' and rearrange them into a well-known phrase or saying.

Liberal Democrats will be familiar with the rhetorical device of co-opting language. Back in the 80s, the Liberal Party's right wing used to bang on about being "serious about power", even though most of them had never so much as won a parish council seat. After the merger, their buzz phrase was 'new'. Nowadays, the in-word among such charlatans is 'tough'.

We should know by now not to mistake spin for substance.

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