Gordon Brown’s determination to behave as though he were a character invented by Dostoyevsky – rather than forged at the foot of a stern Scots kirk, the personal back-story Brown prefers – is the big news again. Yesterday’s carnival of reaction had me thinking back to the moment 20-odd years ago when I discovered Dostoyevsky as my ‘favourite writer’, a status he’s more or less retained. One of the scholars whose writings were helpful to my discovery of his work was Professor John Jones of Oxford, who also introduced me to Kafka’s defence of the typical Dostoyevsky hero as a man not utterly deranged but merely ‘incidentally mad’ – in the same manner as the rest of us. Jones was certainly with Kafka on this point, arguing that we all mutter to ourselves when we think we’re alone, cursing under our breath, ‘F**k me!’ or ‘I’ve got him!’ or suchlike. ‘We all do it!’, Jones insisted.
Well, ‘I’ve got him!’ would certainly sum up the current, gleeful view of the Tory commentariat in respect of Gordon Brown, following his inadvertently 'on-mic' dismissal of the woman he met in Rochdale. It’s schadenfreude, of course, but, even if we do indeed ‘all do it’, it’s fair to say that only three of us are currently running for the office of Prime Minister. We are back in ‘psychologically flawed’ land again.
This PM is an unlucky general, for sure. But we do make our own luck in life to a large extent, and Gordon Brown has been stumbling through a veritable thicket of bad karma for years now. His apology was pulpit language – ‘a penitent sinner’, indeed – but the forced grin on his face as he pronounced himself ‘mortified’ was indeed worthy of one of Dostoevsky’s internally divided anti-heroes. Or, to summon another literary spirit – ‘I went on sinning every hour, and all the while most strenuously warring against sin...’ Thus Robert Wringhim, he of James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), the classic text of Gothic Scottish Calvinism.
All I would say to Brown’s happy detractors is: beware that karmic redress, for it is certainly coming down the pipe at us all. We all say hard words when we think no-one’s listening - sometimes even for the amusement of other ears, if we're sure the company is entirely congenial. Had I the misfortune (say, on election night…) to step into some room populated wholly by the Tory commentariat – say, the likes of Benedict Brogan, Fraser Nelson, the guy who calls himself Guido Fawkes, etc, etc – I do suspect the air in the room could probably be condensed down into a draught fit to turn the noble Dr Jekyll into the gloating Mr Hyde.
In any event, this blog is voting Labour on May 6. It will be a ‘lost vote’ in my case, as Hornsey and Wood Green – captured by the Lib Dems in 2005 in a wave of protest against the ousting of Saddam – is not looking remotely likely to change its mind this time. (This likelihood, though, has not converted me to electoral reform…)
I can’t say I’m hungry for 5 more years of Gordon Brown in Number 10: I have for some time wanted Alan Johnson or David Miliband in that job. I do, however - and for my sins - prefer Mr Brown to the other contenders. More pointedly, in the short-term, I want Alastair Darling to stay Chancellor, Miliband to stay Foreign Secretary, Johnson to stay at the Home Office. Anyone who wants Osborne, Hague and Grayling in those jobs has my very best wishes for a swift recovery. (I couldn’t actually tell you whom the Lib Dems would put up for those positions, but I don’t feel a great loss.)