21 December 2015

Give Gordon Brown the job of cleaning up FIFA


Ten years ago it was fashionable to say in media circles that you had better start being nice about Gordon Brown. Don’t you know he is going to inherit the earth? Get with the programme, or prepare to get excluded. Once Blair is gone it will be Brown for a decade. Cameron? Don’t be ridiculous. He’ll be smashed to bits by the great clunking fist from Fife sometime in 2007. If you were a journalist or an MP it was not uncommon to have it pointed out by Brown acolytes that you had better shape up.

I was one of those who missed the memo, in my case not because I had any great foresight about what would happen to the economy in 2008 when Brown’s policy legacy left the UK badly exposed. A bloated banking system, on which the Treasury was over-reliant, meant the UK was exceptionally hard hit by global collapse. It was more that I just had an uneasy feeling that the Brown era – and all its hubris – would end badly eventually unless he sneaked an early election win once he removed Blair. It seemed to me that Cameron was being underestimated too. And, more importantly, it shouldn’t be the job of hacks to do what politicians want, surely. It is part of the job to cause trouble for powerful people and ignore the hilarious pseudo-mafiosi behaviour of the supporters who had watched Goodfellas too many times and wanted to be Alastair Campbell. Plenty of commentators and hacks who were irritants and worse to the Blair crowd, or to Brown, or to Cameron since then, have carried on doing their thing and making a living of sorts, lobbing stink bombs, revealing inconvenient facts, and so on. Where is the Blair team that carried all before it? What of the all-powerful Brown machine? Gone. Rusting in the Westminster junkyard.

Ten years later, one hears it again from Tory MPs and journalists. This time the message is that the next decade belongs to George Osborne. He and Cameron will win the EU referendum, it is said, and then the Chancellor will become Tory leader and Prime Minister until the middle of the next decade, so ambitious MPs (who should tell their tormentors to get stuffed) are advised to be extra nice to the Chancellor. It’s going to be George’s world, and we’ll just live in it.

Politics is not that neat and tidy, thank goodness. While it is perfectly possible that Osborne will win, it is not guaranteed, and the economy is not as robust as it looks either. Also, this is the future of the country at stake. It should be about much more than just who gets to be in charge for a few years.

Osborne is a fascinating figure – GSOH, well-balanced, sane – who has built a formidable machine. Unlike politicians with a natural charisma he has painstakingly constructed his public persona. But his problem may turn out to be that this does not matter much outside the “bubble,” where judgments are arrived at with brutal simplicity and finality by voters. He has a popularity deficit that it will be extremely difficult to surmount.

Anyway, that’s not why I started writing this piece. I was going to say something nice about the previously invincible Gordon Brown. I am not saying this because it is Christmas. I am not writing this having emerged from a long Christmas lunch. No, it is, as they say in modern parlance, an “absolute no-brainer” that Gordon Brown should be put in charge of sorting out FIFA and cleaning it up after the departure of the ludicrous Sepp Blatter.

Football, or the international end of it in FIFA, is in a terrible mess. It needs a strong guiding figure to bring order and Brown would be good at it. He’s a proper football fan who understands the game and would restore a little of its moral grandeur. FIFA needs Gordon Brown, (working alongside a strong, counter-balancing financial director who will ensure that Brown does not make over optimistic financial projections). Give it to Gordon.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.