The square outside the London headquarters of Bloomberg’s was a forest of radio and TV van masts. Happy and excited-looking party officials bustled about, clipboards in hand and mobile phones glued to their ears, adding a sense of anticipation to the live pictures being carried on the 24-hour news networks.
This was the day of Gordon Brown’s elevation to the status of ‘Prime Minister-elect”: a title wholly unknown to the British constitution. To be still more pedantic, it’s not even accurate, since no-one had actually voted for him to succeed Tony Blair.
Gordon Brown’s date with destiny had always seemed inevit-able. Now it had become official.
It was my job to commentate live on his acceptance speech and news conference during Simon Mayo’s Five Live afternoon programme. Nicola, my enthusiastic producer, had the bright idea of taking a radio gadget called a ‘wizzy-com”, a thing that looks like a thin, deep woman’s handbag with an aerial. It allows you to stray away from your radio car and roam about relatively freely. It meant I could wander around inside Bloomberg’s and set the scene for the Five Live audience.
He came on to the stage rather late, the prerogative, I suppose, of important people who’ve just become very important indeed. Brown was again looking immaculate. He had an unforced smile, especially when he was addressed for the first time from the floor, by the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, as ‘Prime Minister-elect”. The Labour-folk in the audience laughed and clapped.
He spoke, a lot, about trust. He spoke about talking to nurses, patients, policemen and parents; about ‘listening and learning”. The implication was that Labour had perhaps not done quite enough of either until that moment, or had fallen out of the habit. We were asked to believe that Brown would suddenly acquire, or reveal, the necessary humility to listen to others and change his mind from time to time. Well, it could happen.
I chatted to colleagues about the event we’d all witnessed, and Brown’s performance. The verdict was unanimous. It was ‘OK”, even ‘quite good”. On reflection, it was better than that. He’d been authoritative and there’d been plenty of presence. Not quite the same as Tony Blair’s stage-presence and charisma. At his peak, he made supporters want to stand up and cheer. The more natural urge for many keen Brown supporters is to stand up and salute, or at least nod gravely in agreement. Of course, many who once cheered Blair now regret it. If Brown can persuade them to at least nod in agreement with a Labour leader he’ll have achieved a lot.
On my Sunday programme, Five Live’s Weekend News, I spoke to a couple of Labour supporters who’d attended a hustings meeting in Coventry for the six deputy leadership candidates (the Prime Minister-elect was also there, although there was no-one to disagree with him on the platform).
The candidates had all been speaking about the importance of party unity. One by one they’d uttered much the same mantra: there were no longer ‘Brownites and Blairites”, there was just Labour. Actually, almost everyone’s a Brownite now, which amounts to the same thing.
Sure enough: my two guests duly told me there were ‘no Brownites and Blairites any more”.’It was all very on-message. The party hasn’t quite forgotten the lessons of the Eighties and early Nineties. But part of me longed for a show of passion to go with the discipline, just a little. Not too much to ask, surely?