Gordon Brown is far more popular in the rest of the world than he is in his own country. Is it time for constitutional reform?
Gordon Brown won the world statesman of the year award last week. I know. I’m as surprised as you. The prime minister was honoured for his leadership on the economic crisis – for bringing nations together to agree an essential fiscal stimulus package that saved a world on the brink of economic meltdown. He received the honour at a glittering award ceremony with Bono and Henry Kissinger. “His leadership has been essential to our ability to overcome the moment of danger,” Mr Kissinger said. Its no wonder Brown likes going abroad so much.
Of course, back in England the whole ‘award-winning-celebrity’ thing somehow got lost in the postal strike. All we heard about was tales of how Downing Street had tried five times to arrange bi-lateral talks with Obama, only to be rebutted. Of poor snubbed Brown limping after the big boys like a puppy that’s been stepped on. Number 10 went into spin overdrive – which invariably these days has the opposite of the desired effect.
However, in New York no one could understand what all the insecurity was about. Turns out abroad Brown has a different reputation – which comes as a surprise as his reputation in the UK press is fast approaching that of a series eight Big Brother contestant. It was the same with Tony Blair towards the end (a comparison Brown will surely be unhappy with). Why is this? Are we too hypercritical or does Brown really think that the UK ain’t big enough for him? Or is he suffering from the constitutional void at the top?
Brown certainly seems to have bigger things on his mind – outward appearances suggest he spends all his time gearing up for the next global summit. All we hear from Downing Street is a Lonely Planet litany – Pittsburgh, New York, Copenhagen. Perhaps, like Tony Blair, he is looking for an international legacy.
We’ve now had a succession of ‘statesmen’ as leaders. The problem is, there’s only room for one at the top in our current constitution – we don’t have a prime minister and a president – and sadly Brown has no ambition to be Queen. While he may have saved the world, he has probably lost the country.
It’s a shame his foreign policy focus is so damaging for Labour. Many of the things he is seeking to achieve globally – consensus on fiscal stimulus, a new (if still not ambitious enough) global climate change treaty, lower maternal mortality rates – are laudable. But there’s no one visibly micro-managing in the UK while he works on these grand plans. And while the cat’s away, the lack of leadership at home is opening up the gap in the polls between Labour and the Conservatives.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, David Cameron may be making gains at home but he lacks Brown’s world standing. The accusation that Obama thinks Cameron is a “lightweight” (even if it has been dismissed as false Labour spin by the Tories) hangs in the air and the Tories have a potentially disastrous relationship with a strengthening Europe.
In the Twenty-First century, we are beginning to suffer from our constitution. There are obvious advantages to having one party in government and one political figurehead, but there are disadvantages too and these become painfully obvious when interest wanes from domestic policy. I’m not suggesting some hideous coalition of the unwilling, but we clearly need another manager at the top (or a coach perhaps?) if we are to continue punching above our weight on the world stage.
In his speech to the UN last week, Gordon Brown said the time had come “for statesmanship, not brinkmanship”. Maybe the time has come for some stewardship too.