Q: What do you do when your Party's popularity ratings are the lowest since records began?
A: Apparently, you write a book. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7553713.stm
Not content with decimating Labour support all over the country and losing 3 consecutive by-elections, Gordon Brown thinks it is a good time to pen another book. The book on 'Britishness', Brown's ongoing obsession with dictating culture from above, will include contributions from likely guardians of culture such as J.K. Rowling; author of such great works of fiction as The Prisoner of Azkhaban. George Martin, the only surviving Beatle who isn't a drummer or a cheesy shadow of his former self, is also set to contribute and I hear rumours that Jade Goody and David Beckham are set to add chapters to ensure a good balance of all that is British.
Considering I have found it difficult to find time to put down random comments on my blog lately, I wonder how Brown manages to fit in writing books into his day-to-day life as Prime Minister. I don't even have kids. Even if he can fit this into his 20 hours of awake time per day, I don't really think it is the best use of his time. If he wants to do something about Britishness, then how about stopping the closure of most of Britain's post offices? How about doing something to reduce 11 years of growing income inequality under a Labour government? How about trying to avoid the words "difficult economic times" in a public statement?
What is perhaps more worrying is the thought of what Brown will write on Britishness. His existing speeches on the subject are peppered with big bucket adjectives and non-sequiturs. When pushed to define the abstract term, Brown largely journeys into incomprehensible babble, for example this from the British Council Annual Lecture in 2004:
"But when we ask what are the core values of Britishness, can we find in them a muscularity and robustness that neither dilutes Britishness and British values to the point they become amorphous nor leaves them so narrowly focused that many patriotic British men and women will feel excluded? Of course, a strong sense of national identity derives from the particular, the special things we cherish. But I think we would all agree that we do not love our country simply because we occupy a plot of land or hold a UK passport but also because that place is home and because that represents values and qualities - and bonds of sentiment and familiarity - we hold dear."
Or try this from the Fabian Conference in 2006:
"But I would argue that if we are clear about what underlies our Britishness and if we are clear that shared values – not colour, nor unchanging and unchangeable institutions – define what it means to be British in the modern world, we can be far more ambitious in defining for our time the responsibilities of citizenship; far more ambitious in forging a new and contemporary settlement of the relationship between state, community and individual; and it is also easier too to address difficult issues that sometimes come under the heading 'multiculturalism' – essentially how diverse cultures, which inevitably contain differences, can find the essential common purpose without which no society can flourish."
Once he has lost his audience with this preamble he then names British values as: "Creative, adaptable and outward looking, our belief in liberty, duty and fair play" British Council Annual Lecture, July 2004
"Creativity, inventiveness, enterprise and our internationalism, our central beliefs are a commitment to – liberty for all, responsibility by all and fairness to all." Fabian Conference 2006 (Note that inventiveness, enterprise and internationalism all became British values sometime between 2004 and 2006?)
By 2007, Britishness was no longer defined by the tolerance, liberty and fair play but: "British tolerance, the British belief in liberty and the British sense of fair play." (February 2007) It is always good to use the word being defined in the definition...
Maybe I am being harsh. Perhaps Brown finds the process of writing and reflecting a form of relaxation from the pressures of a thankless job, or perhaps Brown has recognised that he needs to sure up his life after politics before Tony Blair and The Mili-Band try to knock him from Number 10.