Gordon Brown’s impassioned speech to the Citizens’ UK meeting on Monday has been widely and rightly praised – he showed us a leader worth electing, a leader capable of inspiring. He also showed Labour activists a leader worth getting the vote out for. It reminded me of a speech he gave back in 1994 to a Labour regional conference when the party leadership had already all but slipped away from him – a gutteral, almost political scream, who showed Gordon the radical, the idealist. But again it came only when he already sensed he had nothing to lose. It makes one wonder what kind of leader he might have been had his innate caution not always held him back.
(As an aside it is extraordinary that he was moved to such an animated performance by the tearful intervention of a young woman detailing the financial travails of her mum who worked as a cleaner at the Treasury. This was after all the department Mr Brown ran for 11 years.)
In our election podcast, Charles Lewington points out that John Major also seemed to find a moment of release in the last days of the 1997 election campaign.
There is something terribly sad about modern politics that the political class finds candidates who seem to embody what we admire in raw form and spend the next years stripping out everything that made them admirable in the first place. Some might argue that David Cameron took this process to its logical conclusion by doing the work for us in advance.
In the dash for the political middle-ground they triangulate and sloganise to the point where it gets harder and harder to see the real candidate. Many have complained about the Americanisation of British politics but this is perhaps its greatest impact.
Inevitably, one the greatest exploration of this process, therefore, comes from the US. Michael Ritchie’s 1972 movie The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, brilliantly details the process by which a potentially edgy and interesting candidate (chosen for his looks and family name more than his policies) has his rough edges shaved and his strong policies muddied until all that is left of the original are the looks and name.
The film memorably concludes with the just victorious candidate suddenly contemplating what exactly he wil do with his win:
How hard is it to imagine Mr Cameron in this scene on Friday morning?