On air: Is Britain about to get rid of a good leader?

Update: Interesting take by our pol editor on why things have got a lot better _45628352_brownsmiling226gettyfor Brown.

Stephen Foley thinks it looks very stupid to ditch Brown. He’ll be on the show.

This story is unrelenting. You take your eyes of it for an hour, as I did last night for a game of squash, you turn the radio on and there’s another huge development.

I went to bed hearing that Gordon Brown was on the ropes, now he’s pulled off a swift reshuffle (bringing a potential successor nice and close as Health Secretary) and pundits says he’s now got a better of chance of fighting on. Who knows, to be honest?

But there’s no doubt his leadership is in serious peril, and some of you on the outside looking in are wondering at the wisdom of risking losing a leader that you believe is of high calibre.

Do you think Britons should wake up to the qualities of their PM? Or do you think their disillusionment (the local and European elections are certain to bring bad news for Labour) is completely understandable?

Spanish PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero makes the case for Brown in this article.

55 Responses to “On air: Is Britain about to get rid of a good leader?”

  1. 1 Kelsie
    June 5, 2009 at 14:21

    Hard to say…looking at it from across the big ditch–

    Gordon Brown is an earnest, and one might even say well-motivated individual; he has a great deal of integrity (flying phones and fax machines notwithstanding) and the force of will to lead. On the other hand, his government has for some time now been casting about in an almost haphazard manner, struggling to keep control over an increasingly parlous world economy while effectively grappling with domestic issues.

    His biggest weakness is not HIM, per se, but his cabinet: the unnecessary brouhaha between Jacqui Smith and Mike Savage, for example, sapped political willpower from the government over what was essentially a non-issue. Looking a bit further back, the government’s bumbling over GCSEs, tackling knife crime, and the 42 days…this has ‘snowballed,’ to a point, with the MPs’ expenses catastrophe breaking over the government’s head at precisely the worst moment.

    He frankly suffers from a charisma deficit, and the cabinet reshuffle is starting to feel somewhat panicky, as though he’s trying to suddenly and abruptly over-assert his authority to stay in power. I think the British people on the whole, though, are exhausted on Labour rule–12 years in power is an awfully long time…as Francis Urquhart would say: “The [man] simply held on too long.” For him as a person, I hate to see it end this way; but as a leader, it looks like the curtain is starting to fall…

    • 2 Simon Hailstone
      June 5, 2009 at 18:17

      It is completely irrelevant whether Brown is forced to step down or not, the Labour party is intellectaully bankrupt and long ago abandoned any claim to be progressive when it adopted neo-liberalism as its governing creed. A change in leadership will not alter this fact.

  2. 3 RightPaddock
    June 5, 2009 at 14:33

    The BBC overestimates the esteem in which the British Parliamentary system is held.

    As to whether it matters that Brown remains as UK-PM, the answer is no.

    Zapatero is bound to defend him, they are both left wing bureaucrats.

    As to the G20, it may have given the British the feeling that the UK matters, but the rest of the world and its leaders forgot about it the next day.

  3. June 5, 2009 at 14:33

    The short answer is No.
    Not that there is a better ‘leader apparent’ to fill Mr Brown’s shoes.
    Anyone who has read Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered; a remarkable collection of essays by British economist E. F. Schumacher first published in 1973, which points out the folly of the ‘rotten system’ then, can only agree that 36 years later nothing in politics and economics has changed for the better. Largely due the the actions, and perhaps more importantly the inactions of our ‘leaders’, Gordon Brown included.

    People still don’t matter and as long as Gordon Brown and his ilk hold the tiller, nothing is going to change that. Out with the old, certainly in this case (the way the MP expenses fiasco was handled is pure black comedy), in with the new? What is new? Certainly not the same old public school drivel from the Conservative Party, the Lib Dems… who they?
    But certainly staying with the devil you know is not going to help anyone or anything.

    The people have a good chance right now to show that yes, People Do Matter, and get rid of the self satisfied charlatans that ‘rule the roost’.

  4. June 5, 2009 at 14:40

    Being a good leader also includes one’s ability to show others this quality and convince all doubting Thomasses that they are mistaken. I don’t know enough on Mr. Brown to cast a vote, but I will expect him to put his good qualities (if any) to use and survive.

  5. 7 Bob in Queensland
    June 5, 2009 at 14:45

    Although Gordon Brown was, possibly, a good chancellor (and even there he may have “lost the plot” towards the end, I’m far from convinced he has the qualities of “a good leader”. Leadership requires much more than basic competence and “dour and unapproachable” are not qualities that inspire people to follow.

  6. June 5, 2009 at 15:02

    James from Kenya

    I feel maybe Brown is a victim of his blandness. If I remember correctly Blair rode worse storms than Brown through charm and charisma. He should lighten up and maybe dye his hair red to be spontaneous. A leader and this is a matter of psychology needs to seem less rigid. The problem with Brown is his staff are exploting his aloofness to make him take all the blame. something Blair used to shake off easily.

  7. 9 Emil
    June 5, 2009 at 15:18

    Gordon Brown is a hard worker, NOT a good leader.

    The only way he could have become Prime Minister is for the position to have been handed to him.

    He would never have become PM if he had to campaign for it because he does not have good leadership skills to convince the electorate and he is an extremely poor communicator and is too grumpy.

    Emil Michael

  8. 10 Aubrey
    June 5, 2009 at 15:25

    Hello Ross,
    I think that all the fuss really is about the Britons getting their own Barack Obama. David Cameron is young and energetic and speaks well but beware of change for the sake of it. I have not heard anything concrete that he or his party will do and all they have been doing is going on about how bad labour is. I think that Mr Brown has established a strong leadership role in the eyes of the international community as someone who knows what he is doing. He seems to be one of the pillars behind the current effort to turn the world economy around. At the very least, I think the British should let him get to next year to see how the measures are taking effect. The Tories will not have done anything significant by then anyway. The only reason they seem united is because they all want the same thing- POWER!


  9. 11 Tom K in Mpls
    June 5, 2009 at 15:31

    As I pointed out on another topic, people don’t always think right when things are going wrong. They need to keep things in their proper perspective. This isn’t always easy. On related point I would like people to keep in mind is this. The ability to buy goods from around the world, whether for price, lack of options or simply for variety, this is globalization. So is vacationing in another land, listening to internet radio or investing in a foreign country. It goes way beyond immigration and an expanding government base. Do you really want to stop this, or maybe just set some mild and reasonable controls?

  10. 12 deryck/trinidad
    June 5, 2009 at 15:33

    I agree totally with the spanish PM Mr Zapatero that indeed Gordon Brown led the way in addressing the global economic crisis and he might have done alot to foster European unity and cooperation.

    But the Briish people care less about his European exploits and more about his leadership at home. If you desire to become a world leader you must remember charity begins at home. You must remain in touch with your people while at the same time reaching out to the world. I recall Thabo Mbeki had a similar problem of being branded aloof and out of touch with the ordinary South African people. Mr Mbeki also tried to be a leader in African affairs but he lost the plot at home and he was eventually replaced.

    Therefore you cannot forget the people who voted you into office.Oops! I forgot, Mr Brown was not elected to be Prime Minister.

  11. 13 Dennis Junior
    June 5, 2009 at 15:56

    I have the feeling that Britain is on the verge of getting rid of a good leader (.) Gordon Brown according to the BBC, Geoff Horn has tendered his resignation from government….

    ~Dennis Junior~

  12. June 5, 2009 at 16:05

    There is a rhythm to British politics – no matter how popular a government is, after a certain length of time people get weary and want a Change. Unfortunately, due to the first-past-the-post system, there are only two realistic alternatives. It looks like the Conservatives will get in next time, a prospect which fills many with gloom. If only the Lib-Dems had made more impact as an alternative.

    Gordon Brown is an intellectual and the British on the whole don’t value that. I believe he’s a man of value and integrity but his teeth don’t flash like Tony’s.
    The recent exposure of politicians’ greed in fiddling their expenses doesn’t reflect well on any party.

    Britain seems truly disillusioned as a nation. Let’s take whatever time is left to look for a liberal leader with integrity and passion, but sadly there’s only one Obama.

  13. 15 Robert
    June 5, 2009 at 16:39

    A good leader is one whom inspires others to follow. Gordon Brown doesn’t do that. He manages people he doesn’t lead them.

    Gordon Brown is a great manager. He makes an excellent head of department or ministry. He understands his areas and the can work at a level of detail that most politicians couldn’t work at. However this doesn’t work as the Prime Minister and it he has very quickly become bogged down and unable to work things through to completion.

    • 16 Jessica in NYC
      June 5, 2009 at 18:50


      A good leader is more than just someone that can give a pretty smile for the cameras. Gordon Brown has successfully helped shape global finance and rallied other leader around the world to help turn our economies around. Look at how your market is reacting to the rumors of Brown stepping down. What exactly makes a good leader? Ones who gets things done or one who know what color ties looks better on camera?

  14. 17 Donnamarie in Switzerland
    June 5, 2009 at 17:18

    I was delighted when the “New Labour” government was voted in 12 years ago. If I could have voted the the election that brought Labour to power, I would have voted enthusiastically for Labour. I also would have voted for Labour again the next time around. But 12 years is enough. Labour has gone off track. I don’t think that even a maneuver like John Major replacing Margaret Thatcher could work in this situation.

    Whatever Gordon Brown’s contributions and attributes, he has been such a dismal leader that one cannot really even say that he has led.

    Time for Gordon Brown to go. Time to chuck Labour out and regroup. “Nuf said.

  15. 18 Anthony
    June 5, 2009 at 17:33

    To be honest, I don’t know much about whats going on in Britian regarding politics, but from what an average American like myself sees, he seems like a good man who genuinly cares about the British people, and is willing to do what he needs to in order to help them.

    If he doesn’t know what he’s doing (like a lot of people seem to think), him being a good man (my assumption), I’m sure he will surround himself with good people who do know what to do.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  16. June 5, 2009 at 17:33

    Mr. Brown’s present troubles are his own making, because he hasn’t been able to control the opposition’s criticism and because he has shot himself in the foot a few times (consider his wobbling about a quick election early on). There is no reason for Mr. Brown to face an early “standing down”, but for the Conservatives clever twisting of general anti-government sentiment to focus against Mr. Brown. (And for some MP’s desire to shift the headlines from their extra houses, etc. in the uproar over deductions.)

    What do the Conservatives have to offer in Labour’s place? A younger man with a pretty family born to the upper class who has reinvented himself to let the general public imagine he is “one of them”… only with a reinvented Conservative swaggle. I have not heard any policy proposals from the Conservatives that would address the recession, no viable alternatives to the leadership Mr. Brown has given through his policies to shore up the financial sector.

    For a nation to change leadership earlier than the law requires in the middle of a “war” (the battle to mitigate the effects of recession) is a VERY serious matter. Mr. Brown is not pretty, he is not glib, he isn’t even “English”, but he is very intelligent and he has a lot of experience technically and he has done what most economists say must be done in present financial circumstances. Judging a leader by the cover of the book instead of its content is what got the US George Bush for eight years. Not a pretty picture unless words are more important than action.

  17. June 5, 2009 at 17:42

    Just seen the Press Conference at No.10
    Good rallying cry. Labour needs solidarity. No better man to lead the party.

  18. 22 Bob in Queensland
    June 5, 2009 at 17:54

    I think your “update” analysis that things are getting better forgets one major point. None of the Labour heavyweights want the leadership job right now–they perceive that their party will lose the next general election and want Brown blamed for that. AFTER the election, all this support for Brown will rapidly dissolve.

  19. 23 Vijay
    June 5, 2009 at 18:05

    Is Britain about to get rid of a good leader?

    No, of course not.

    PM Gordon Brown has not only led the UK back on the quickest and “prudent”path to recovery but also shown the rest of the world how to get out of the present world economic crisis.

    The tories have gone backwards,they have more old etonians in their shadow cabinet than 50 years ago. The new Conservatives under Cameron are dull and uninspiring,they can not even do cheap oportunism very well.

    Theses were the Local and European elections where the voters had a chance to vent their frustration ,however there hasn’t been much change since the 2004 elections ,therefore not as disasterous as it could nave been.

  20. 24 CJ McAuley
    June 5, 2009 at 18:07

    A very apt phrase comes to mind: rats leaving a sinking ship! I am sure a similar scramble occurred in the bottom deck of the Titanic.

  21. 25 Crispo
    June 5, 2009 at 18:07

    So i always thought, that Brown for being an exceptionally wonderful person, is a poor leader. Labour came to power with Blair possessing almost all, if not most of the qualities the British proletariate had expected with the right undertones.

    Blair left the helm with almost the British public having lost hope in Labour. A brief period of hope was restored by Brown’s appointment.

    I must say he’s unfortunate because, unlike Obama, he hasn’t got the gift of speech to back him up. The timing couldn’t have been worse; recession, internal bickering, MPs expenses scandal. Too much for one to handle, even if you are endowed with immense oratory, it may be pretty hard to move or change things.

    Hard times call for drastic actions or measures, Brown’s already started the process, pain staking as it may seem. I hope he will get something to report home to the Electorate.

  22. 26 M H Rudolph
    June 5, 2009 at 18:09

    Let us know when you plan to set up the guillotine in Trafalger Square. Your press is playing a dangerous game — after the politicians are all disposed of, the press will be next.

  23. 27 Jessica in NYC
    June 5, 2009 at 18:11

    From this side of the pond:
    I agree with Stephen Foley and find it absurd that Brown’s lack of charisma is “trivial compared to the great issues or failings that should bring down world leaders”.

    I find it comical that in the mist of an economic crisis the British people are asking for Gordon Brown to step down over his delayed response to expenses scandal. It seems to be the people would be better served by a leader who is dealing with national matters than responding every minute to reporters.

  24. 28 Abram
    June 5, 2009 at 18:17

    Yes! PM Brown is a blessing to the British political system. The British society is in desperate need of a political and social evolution, so his experience is a valuable asset in such a chaotic time.

  25. 29 Anthony
    June 5, 2009 at 18:19

    Charisma shmarisma. Everyone LOVED Bush’s charisma, and he was a dumb schmuck.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

    • 30 Jessica in NYC
      June 5, 2009 at 18:37

      Exactly. A leader’s skill shouldn’t be measured by how much he smiles.

      [LOL–literally. I was drinking water when Ros read this comment and water came out of my nose.]

      • 31 patti in cape coral
        June 5, 2009 at 20:36

        I think the British are smarter than to base decisions on “charisma”, aren’t they? Or does that beautiful accent just make them sound smarter than they really are?

  26. 32 George
    June 5, 2009 at 18:22

    I think if Mr. Brown were directly elected by the people of Britain he would not be having the degree of public confidence issues he is having. He has also disappointed people by making promises he has not kept – e.g. a referandum on the EU etc. I think the problem for Brown is bigger than just the Expenses issue. For example, I don’t think Brown has commuicated confidence and assurance to the British people; don’t think they have ever seen brown as the right person for the job.

    Norfolk, VA USA

  27. 33 Osa
    June 5, 2009 at 18:24

    I think Gordon Brown has lost the moral standing to continue as PM due to the recent events surrounding him. He should not continue by making manovers to remain MP

  28. 34 Sam
    June 5, 2009 at 18:26

    I cannot fathom why Gordon Brown is so unpopular with his own party and the British public. Whilst there are problems the labour party has to deal with, the majority of those problems have not been caused by Gordon Brown. He has had to deal with members of his own party plotting smear campaigns, high profile cabinet members deserting him, party members using taxpayers to clean out their moats and the turning tide of the public against against Mr. Brown due to his supposed lack of style and charisma. Despite this, Gordon Brown has managed to broker a G20 labelled as ‘historic’ by Barack Obama and has recently set aside a 100 billion pound project to revamp Britain’s NHS.
    If the British public wants to remove a Prime Minister who is active in improving the British and global economy on the basis that he is a dour Scot who has had to deal with rotten MPs, then that’s up to them.

    Sam Australia

    • 35 Shunjing
      June 5, 2009 at 21:42

      I think you mean the real issue is the outrages claims for the MP expenses. My bet will be on the conservatives with a slim win and labour winning about 25% and the smaller parties taking the rest . So I like to bid Mr Brown bye bye .

  29. 36 Peter SC
    June 5, 2009 at 18:28

    Sounds more like a red herring . The real issue is the real MP outrages claims. This is democracy , fool the electorate. Gordon Brown will survive.

  30. 37 Christopher Roberts
    June 5, 2009 at 18:29

    The current power-hungry government, starting with President (sic) Blair, have taken control over so many aspects of our lives with all their small-minded but significant laws. They have even imposed a chancellor on us as a prime minister. If you take control you are held responsible.

    Why are they surprised that when politics and economics fall apart they are held responsible?

    Much like the demise of John Major ( whom those who met described as personally impressive ), when a government has to go, even a decent leader will be discarded with it.

    The decent thing to do is to call an election and fight it honestly.

  31. 38 Jessica in NYC
    June 5, 2009 at 18:40

    It is understandable that the British people are angry about the expenses scandal. Everyone needs to reminder that this has occurred under all past PMs and in BOTH parties.

    David Cameron standing in front of the a mic everyday talking to reporters is a manipulation of the British people’s frustration, when according to reports more Tories filed for reimbursement on personal items than Labor.

  32. 39 Jamie Brady
    June 5, 2009 at 18:53

    I do not agree that the British people have a particular or unique attitude or reaction to the Labour government. It has nothing to do with the credit crisis, swine flu, etc – it is about the depth of Labours intrusion into the lives of every one in the nation – taxation, lies, manipulation, wars, etc. Gordon Brown was treasurer for 10 of the last 12 years and must be held responsible for his mistakes – in particular selling Britain’s gold reserves and losing the country billions of pounds.

    Listeners need to understand what life is like on the ground for people living in Britain, taxed to the roof, price inflation, missing pension funds, and having been lectured too and lied too by hypocrites for 12 years straight – there is a point where you have to say ‘enough is enough!’ And we are!

  33. 40 Tom D Ford
    June 5, 2009 at 18:55

    I have not been following the expense scandals but considering the damage that Conservatives have done to the world, it is clear that you cannot afford to let a Conservative get into a position of power. And remember what Maggie Thatcher did to British workers.

  34. June 5, 2009 at 18:57

    British politics is an elitist sham-house of hypocrites. The labour party is being held hostage by its own counter camps, post-Blair and pro-Brown. Brown himself is a hostage of the circumstances of his day without the necessary creative flexibility of thought to be able to appeal to the electorate, despite his academic credentials. He is a ghost PM serving over a ghost parliament. “No future, no future, for you… and England’s screaming”. (God save the Queen). Best regards – Mick McNeill

  35. 42 Elizabeth
    June 5, 2009 at 18:58

    the guardian journalist said that BROWN himself would not describe himself as a great communicator – then went on to say – “and in a world of 24/7 media coverage that is not good.” So what’s wrong here? BROWN or the media.
    I am totally neutral by the way.

  36. 43 George
    June 5, 2009 at 18:59

    Don’t belittle the British people by saying that charisma is the reason they want to throw Brown out. I think the voting public are much smarter than that.

      June 6, 2009 at 14:18

      Mr Brown just have what he deserve.
      he did the same thing to Mr Blair not so long ago, it is now time to pay back…it’s just a family affair , a B to B affair (blair to brown/ brown to blair).

  37. 45 Peggy, Ohio
    June 5, 2009 at 20:34

    To Eileen in Virginia. As far as I’m concerned we can send Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid and the rest of the thieves and liars in Washington packing.

  38. 46 Alan
    June 6, 2009 at 00:10

    Most politicians are corrupt and everyone knows that a brown paper envelope stuffed with cash will change the planning zoning of a piece of land from ‘agricultural ‘ to ‘residential’ very quickly in any country

    It’s the same all over and always has been – so when the Tories get in it will be ‘Meet the new boss – same as the old boss’

    As a Brit living in the USA, the only thing that matters to me in the UK, is the maintenance and development of the UK National Health System – I would stick with any politician who promotes that – and petty corruption which is eternal, comes well down the list of concerns to the people – or it will when they become sick to paraphrase Kinnock

    ‘New’ labour are the best vehicle for that even though they are ‘orrible and always have been

  39. 47 Des Currie
    June 6, 2009 at 06:52

    If the British people were so smart how come they want to throw Brown out and at the very most gain a Cameron. Strange days indeed.
    Des Currie

  40. 48 Eric
    June 6, 2009 at 09:04

    Brown is a Disaster.
    Not Elected..He sold us out to the eu. Ignored the promised referendum.
    He was chancellor and allowed the boom to go unchecked.
    Destroyed our economy.. Allowed mass Immigration.
    He is responsible for the Illegal wars.
    He is responsible for it all.
    He is PM.
    He has Failed us all.

  41. June 6, 2009 at 09:11

    The programmes I have heard on the BBC seem to suggest that Gordon Brown is a first rate leader economically and that the recent headlines, resigning ministers, the expenses scandal, the bullying allegations are comparatively unimportant set against his strong economic record. There are two major economic plagues spreading across Britain and both are at least partly or more probably fully the responsibility of GB. The loss of the good pension schemes for all (including me) except the civil service is a financial personal disaster that is slowly building. GB started it by removing the tax relief for short term reasons. It started the process of making pension schemes unaffordable. That is bad but worse is the financial collapse that occured on his watch. The supervisory structure GB set up was faulty. In addition GB sold Britain’s Gold when the price was low and failed to get good reserves in the good times to use in the bad times, so we have had to borrow excessively instead of dipping into savings. The recent allegations are comparatively trivial.

  42. 50 Jack Hughes
    June 6, 2009 at 10:43

    Note to non-UK readers:

    The links in the piece are to articles in the left-wing Guardian and the left-wing Independent

    Both have tiny circulations and do not reflect mainstream opinion in the UK.

    The Daily Mail has a vastly bigger circulation. Here is part of their coverage….

    Last month he was forced to defend himself against claims of ‘fiddling’ his expenses yesterday as his deputy admitted that the decision to pay his brother £6,500 for cleaning services at his flat ‘looks bad’.

    The Prime Minister was forced to publish details of his cleaning lady’s contract amid swirling innuendo about the detail of his expenses claims.

    Mr Brown was found to have falsely claimed twice for the same £153 plumber’s bill in 2006, which he paid back only this week when the double charge was exposed.

    And he laid himself open to claims of sharp practice by changing the designation of his second home just before he moved into 10 Downing Street, allowing him to claim thousands of pounds to maintain his constituency home in Fife.

  43. 51 globalcomedy
    June 6, 2009 at 18:53

    I know that Brown bashing seems like a national sport to some people. But the current problems, imagine that he does step down. Who could replace him and actually do a better job?

    Cameron has lots of nice sound bites, but nothing really that different. Clegg and the Lib Dems go a bit futher (in ideas and substance). But I get the sense that much of the U.K. public is like the U.S. one. You’re so conditioned to thinking in terms of the TWO MAIN parties that you just can’t go for a third choice.

  44. 52 Richard- Lusaka
    June 6, 2009 at 18:53

    Gordon Brown’s current woes are not being helped by the fact that he was not elected to his current position. His party is in disarrayand he might help their cause by resigning. He needs to call a snap election to verify his mandate in order to stop the wolves baying for his blood.

  45. June 6, 2009 at 19:39

    A good leader charisma most resonate in every sphere. He must be able to galvanize support where it seems impossible.He must be able to keep his loyalists aboard. If Gordon Brown is a good leader, we will see how he navigates the multiple resignation fiasco.

  46. 54 Walter L. Johnson
    June 7, 2009 at 10:10

    I am happy to see any peaceful changes in national leadership positions for one reasons–it is the ultimate and only real proof of a nation’s functioning democracy. After all any nation has many people capable of leading their nation. Leadership should never be a monopoly in government.

  47. 55 globalcomedy
    June 29, 2009 at 19:46

    While harassing politicians goes with the territory, ask yourself. If Cameron replaced Brown as Prime Minister, how would he be actually be different?

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