Silence is Golden, Brown

“For one should not declare one’s intentions, but should seek to get what one desires anyhow. There is, for instance, no need in asking someone for a weapon to say ‘I propose to kill you with it’, since you can satisfy your appetite once you have the weapon in your hands.” —Niccolò Machiavelli, The Discourses, 1.44

The incomparably humourless Gordon Brown stands, statuesque and secretive, in the centre of the chaos enveloping his party. The man whose seductive shadow he has been skulking around in for the past decade has all but moved aside.

Tony Blair has declared that he is going sometime soonish, but in effect he has already gone; his authority undermined, his aura abolished and his enigma emasculated.

Yet still Gordon Brown does nothing. In fact, he does more than nothing. He actively does nothing. He seeks out opportunities to do nothing in the most public way, before walking away, his face strangely contorted, trapped somewhere between a smile and a death throe, in the mistaken belief that those around him are more confused by the whole situation than he is.

There is, however, method in the chancellor’s maladventure. Firstly, Schadenfreude doesn’t come much sweeter than the self-destruction of smugness, particularly when that smugness has spent ten years treating you like an especially supercilious CEO treats his distressingly eager arse-kissing minions – with contempt and cheeky cul-de-sac courting.

Secondly, although by no means more importantly, Brown doesn’t need to do anything. Being a Brutus carries few benefits. As does letting letting people know what you’re thinking. Elaborations give one enemies. El Gordo has enough enemies as it is, and his chalice has already been poisoned in a number of strange and scary ways. Taking a big gulp now is simply asking for trouble. Furthermore—and I admit I may be wronger than Swampy’s haircut on this one—Gordon doesn’t look like a man who deals well with trouble. This isn’t the economy, where one can get away with simply redefining stuff (such that the badness—theoretically at least—doesn’t exist anymore) on account of no bugger understanding the numbers. This is politics, and the best way to deal with problems in politics is with a convincing smile.

Sadly for the chancellor, however, he has one of the least convincing smiles on the planet. I’ll bet there are poor souls being tortured in Uzbek dungeons who could curl up the corners of their mouths with more meaning.

Just as surely as Mr Blair will swap boisterous backbenchers for bronzed Bermudans for good within the year, Mr Brown will take over as Labour leader, and, for a while at least, PM. Throwing his hat into the ring now will just make it dirty: it will be the focus of a dirty campaign run by very dirty people—the sort of miscreants whom a decent man would have to think very hard about socialising with even if a mountainous myrmidon with a machete was making moves to slice off his head if he didn’t.

If Mr Brown wants to give himself the best chance of stomping all over his other smooth-talking and slightly barmy foe, he needs to keep schtum for now, concentrate on not cocking too much up and not stealing too much of his potential voters’ money for practices that range from the disreputable to the deranged. He can—and should—save the statements of any substance for the tougher battles later on, when, as a sour-faced Scottish pisser-away of public funds who possesses about as much charm and charisma as a comatose IT consultant, he’ll need every weapon he’s got, not least the element of surprise.

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