Dan Novak: Indiana Brown, he is not
In the latest installment of the Indiana Jones series, the villain Irina Spalko reveals her grandiose plan to know everything about the minds of men. 'Careful,' replies Indiana, 'you might just get what you wish for.' I won't spoil the ending for those who have not seen it, except to say that it continues with the genre: Indiana escapes through an accurate understanding of the artifact (or at least a mature appreciation of his own ignorance), while the antagonist is undone by a flawed understanding of their quest.
Gordon Brown must feel a lot like an Indy villain these days. Having secured the prizes he most valued, he has become increasingly withdrawn, emerging only to offer empty promises and vague reassurances, or to blame impersonal factors for his decline. Worse still, his days are numbered. The only serious debate among commentators is whether he will resign gracefully or wait to be thrown out in a bloody leadership battle. No.10 was always a different game than No.11, but it was never supposed to be this bad. Who poisoned the chalice?
Superficially, the chalice is the premiership. But it actually runs a lot deeper than the office alone. Here was the plan: New Labour would free monetary policy in order to prevent boom and bust, liberalising the financial sector to stimulate growth. City pay and fuel/alcohol/tobacco taxes would fill government coffers using the headlines of fairness, environmentalism, and public health as justification. Massive government employment programmes would grow the ranks of the public and quasi-public sector, ensuring future New Labour support in the form of middle-class dependents.
Brown's problems today are not due to the failure of this strategy but its success. A year ago the government fretted about rising house prices and cheap oil. It now has falling house prices and record oil. 'Obscene' levels of city pay, along with their significant taxes, are falling likewise, partially due to the credit crunch (not Brown's fault), and the new tax on non-domiciles (a huge mistake, of which the effects are just beginning to be felt). Travel is becoming dearer as taxes and surcharges ensure that even £1 flights move into the luxury space. The Bank of England ignores Brown's plea for lower interest rates, their independent mandate compelling them to fight the now-rampant inflation.
And while the huge numbers of public employees are still there, the support has waned. Pay isn't enough to keep up with the rising cost of living, and high borrowing has left the H.M. Treasury with little breathing room when it comes to increases. Besides, the Tories are unlikely to engage in layoffs en masse, depriving Brown of some of the fear factor in the public sector. New Labour did indeed aspire to change politics and this is evidenced in David Cameron - the real heir to Tony Blair. Blair, for his part, having led the country with a charismatic (if not always truthful) flair, and now traipsing around the Middle East, fits the Indiana Jones part nicely.
Brown is alternating between helplessness (it's all down to international factor) and experience (who best to manage during this difficult time?). Most likely, he will be exposed as a fraud, a flunky whose proximity to the quest implies great knowledge yet in reality is concealing great ignorance.
At the end of The Last Crusade, Donovan foolishly chooses the bejeweled cup over the humble grail, revealing his fundamental misunderstanding of the artifact. Likewise, Gordon Brown has declared the he 'can steer this economy', implying that the economy is there to be directed by one man, rather than the decentralised decisions of millions of individuals. His understanding didn't change when he moved next door. It was never there to begin with.