May 12, 2010
It returned briefly, like a bad memory—a choking cloud, smelling slightly of sulphur, bringing life to a standstill, leaving a thin film of dirt on everything, making everyone feel faintly defiled.
It was a Brown miasma, the belchings of an unquiet country. It was Groundhog Day for Gordon’s goblins—Mandelson, Balls, Cooper, Harman, Hain, Johnson, the Milibands—a re-eructation of orcs we had hoped we would never see again mincing or marching along Downing Street, kobolds of catastrophe. Now they were big with intrigue, cheesing enigmatically, clutching iPhones through which were being relayed exciting intimations—the tie color adopted by Kingmaker Clegg, the views of Vince, the dispositions of Plaid Cymru, what the Green might do—in short, the liquid prospects of Lib-Lab liaison, “a progressive centre-left alliance” or “rainbow coalition” against the Blue Meany Cameron and his even awfuller adherents.
The Chief Goblin had slithered earlier from his squat, blinking in the daylight, to announce that he would be standing down as PM to help achieve agreement with the Liberal Democrats, and in “the national interest”—for him an exciting new concept. The phrase was picked up and passed from studio to studio, as Glib-Flabs vied with each other and the nasty but necessary Meanies to see who could use it most while they all stalked absurdly around each other in a Ã¼ber-polite quadrille, like crabs waltzing pincer to pincer. Meanwhile, excited readers of Tribune flocked to contribute to an online poll asking “‘Should Labour and the Lib Dems attempt to form an administration?’ Results: Yes 18, No 7. Total votes: 25.”
Brown’s was a “brave decision” (Labour MP) “putting the interests of the country first” (Labour MP), in which he—err—“put the country’s interests first” (Liberal Democrat peer). Writing in the Independent, former Labour minister Denis MacShane waxed poetic about the statesman he had loved and why “on Brown’s face there was a wan smile, as if he knew that his announcement would suddenly make him a prophet in his own land.” Remembering classy soirÃ©es of yore, Denis noted, “no man in years long gone was better company over a curry and a glass or two.” Vale, then, to ”…one of the few proper intellectuals in politics—who sensibly disguised his learning.”
Sensibly indeed—and with such great success that Jeremy Clarkson saw nothing wrong in saying, “Gord riddance to the Scottish idiot.”
But all progressive plans were doomed to be dashed, with the announcement yesterday afternoon that a Lib-Lab deal was off. Gordon padded out again to announce that he was going to give up immediately if not sooner, and at about 8:30pm, Cameron entered No 10 as PM. All eyes are shifting to how a Lib-Con administration might work, if it works at all. But we should nonetheless consider who might replace the “prophet in his own land” and take his place at that curry-house table.
BBC runners and riders include David Miliband, who has “an impressive CV” but who unforgivably “allowed himself to be photographed holding a banana.” His possibly misspelled picture caption reads “Policy wonk-turned-Blairite-frontrunner”. Then there is “smooth-talking ex-postman” Alan Johnson—but the BBC aren”t certain he can deliver.
What about Mr Badger Darling—“calm through the storm—but uncharismatic?” Or “fresh-faced, friendly” Andy Burnham? Who could help the party avoid a cataclysmic “Cain and Abel struggle” between David Miliband and Ed, his Energy Sec sibling? Maybe Ed Education Balls, who looks like he was the kind of boy who flicked wet towels at naked schoolmates in the changing rooms. Or the “philosophical left-winger” Jon Cruddas, who is “unafraid to use sociological jargon”—totally unlike other left-wingers, then.
Harriet Harman is acting as leader, but the “feminist comeback queen” has ruled herself out for the permanent position—cleverly anticipating the certain verdict of her colleagues.
And behind these big beasts roam equally impressive Co-op Churchills—Peter Hain, AKA “the Pain”; Yvette Cooper, who sounds like a civil partnership between a lady-shave and a small car; and maybe, when the world is ready for the savior of Streatham, “the British Obama” Chuka Umunna.
Whatever happens with Cameron’s coalition, in the background there will always be an ominously smoking mountain, vomiting poisonous fumes and heat. But for a short time at least, the clouds have parted and a sort of spring has come to England.