Gordon Brown’s opportunistic new found admiration for Mrs Thatcher is indicative of just how far he will go in his efforts to distance himself from the left and outflank us.
The fact that the PM is determined to drive his party to the right is surely proven. His rhetorical emphasis on Britishness, aspiration and public sector pay restraint makes the point.
The mix of apparent toughness on immigration and law and order with a willingness to embrace all the talents (and Quentin Davis) is designed to portray Mr Brown as a leader beyond the merely partisan. He wants to be seen as a figure (at least) of the centre and, in critical ways, to the right of the Conservatives. All this is about countering the public’s gut feeling that the new Prime Minister might be the kind of dour, puritanical Scottish socialist that you wouldn’t want to meet at a party- a bit like a cross between Private Fraser from Dad’s Army and Kier Hardie.
But in his anxiety to appear to occupy the middle ground Mr Brown is forgetting Margaret Thatcher’s core credo; it’s the common ground – the shared preoccupations of the electorate – that really matters. The zeitgeist counts, not the geometry between political parties.
The common ground is as much about style as it is about substance. When the British people feel extremely angry – as they did about the murder of schoolboy Rhys Jones – they expect their leaders to echo their passion; when their outrage drives them to despair, meek words and mild manners just won’t do.
Unlike his new pin up Margaret, Mr Brown is not only playing out of position, but also lacks range. The blessed Lady knew when Britons expected her to be indignant or stubborn or incensed and her response was instinctively on cue.
So will Gordon Brown grow to match the Lady Thatcher’s flair? To coin a phrase – no, no, no!
John Hayes MP