The impact of the former PM's intervention is impossible to overstateby Peter Kellner / September 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
Gordon Brown deserves two monuments: one, painted in gold leaf, in Wall Street, for the man who saved the world economy in 2008; the other, in granite, outside Buckingham Palace, or possibly Balmoral, for the man who saved the United Kingdom this week.
Yes, I know: Brown is also the man whose battles with Tony Blair almost capsized New Labour, who blew his chance to win an election shortly after he became Prime Minister, whom voters ended up distrusting and whose three years in Downing Street culminated in comprehensive defeat. By 2010, inside the Labour Party, his detractors comfortably outnumbered his friends. Judged by polling numbers and election results, his career ended badly.
Except that it didn’t quite end. Now, with the possible exception of Clement Attlee (and, some would contend, Margaret Thatcher) I cannot think of another peacetime Prime Minister who made such a positive and decisive difference as Brown has done over the past six years. Global slump and a constitutional crisis have been averted. The big banks and the United Kingdom are safe, at least for the time being.
The impact of Brown’s intervention in Scotland’s campaign is hard to overstate. With 11 days to go, YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times showed that a big No lead, which has looked solid as late as mid-August, had crumbled to dust. Our headline figures put Yes, 51 per cent, narrowly ahead of No, 49 per cent. In practice the two sides were neck-and-neck.
The shockwaves were felt on the stock exchange, in the currency markets, in Downing Street and, most acutely, the Better Together campaign. If the momentum towards Yes could not be stopped, the United Kingdom would perish.
The reason for the Yes surge was clear: Alex Salmond had managed to persuade a number of voters, many of them traditional Labour supporters, of two things: that an independent Scotland could indeed prosper economically, and that a Yes victory would get England’s Tories off Scotland’s back and, among other things, protect Scotland’s health service. Better Together had failed to counter these arguments. It needed heavier artillery.
Artillery doesn’t come much heavier than Gordon Brown when he is on form. Every day, starting early last week, he went on the offensive, thumping tubs and storming barns. He seemed to have relocated his mojo. He sounded like the confident, determined, progressive and, yes, passionate Chancellor of 15 years ago, not the drawn, deflated figure he cut in 2010.
Of course, other things helped: Scottish banks warning that they would move their headquarters to London, retailers warning of higher shop prices, and so on. But Brown commands a special attention in Scotland. In Labour’s 2010 election disaster, while the party was haemorrhaging votes and seats in England, it gained votes and lost not a single seat north of the border. Four years later, cometh the hour, cometh the son of the manse, and the second huge achievement of a career that future historians are likely to applaud—and which even the many victims of his anger and scheming over the past 20 years will now have to acknowledge.