David Maddox: Old habits die hard as Brown returns

Gordon Brown staged something of a return to front-line politics yesterday. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Gordon Brown staged something of a return to front-line politics yesterday. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE Press Gallery lunch is perhaps not the obvious place to make a comeback to “front-line” Westminster politics, given 
that it is full of hacks waiting for a politician to speak one word out of place.

But yesterday Gordon Brown followed his two predecessors at 
10 Downing Street – Tony Blair and 
John Major – in choosing the irregular event as a stage to make something of a return.

In Mr Brown’s case the comeback is temporary and was part of his efforts to help argue for Scotland to remain in the UK. And in truth it is not a case of Daniel entering the lion’s den, even for a politician who had such a rotten relationship with the press as Mr Brown. After all, what most journalists want is a good story; so if a politician arrives with one, they tend to warm to him or her.

When John Major appeared last year it was a moment where he re-established himself as a significant voice with a very clear critique of the coalition and its policies. He has been a thorough pain in the neck for Prime Minister David Cameron and his colleagues ever since.

Mr Brown has clearly taken note. He came with a focus – the Scottish referendum – and, as a result, he spoke with much of the old passion and intellectual rigour that defined him at the height of his powers.

But while 16 years since his humiliation in the 1997 election had given Mr Major time to heal when he addressed the Press Gallery, it was clear from Mr Brown’s appearance that the wounds he had suffered from losing in 2010 still run very deep.

At one point when asked by a journalist whether he wished he had been able to retire from the Commons after losing in 2010, he said: “When I see you, I do.”

And there was a dig at the “untrue stories” one newspaper had written about him in what was meant to be a long humorous history of how he had completely got off on the wrong foot with the British media.

There was some self-deprication though, not least on how Labour sacked him from preparing fellow MPs for television in his early days. But on the big issues, he could not admit to having made any mistakes.

The financial crisis was not his government’s fault but a “private sector” crash and, given time, he could have created the international co-operation needed to solve it.

Even on his own big argument on the referendum not being a Britain versus Scotland issue, he could not resist having a dig at Mr Cameron by suggesting he ought to do a televised debate with Alex Salmond, even if it undermined his case.