After thirteen hectic years the New Labour project came to an end on Tuesday when Gordon Brown bowed to the inevitable and, having failed to form a working partnership with the Liberal Democrats, tendered his resignation ushering in Britain’s first coalition government since the war.
Speaking about the job that at times seemed almost to have broken him he said: ‘only those who have held the office of prime minister can understand the full weight of its responsibilities and its great capacity for good,’ he went on to say that despite facing many ‘challenges’ he had tried to do his best ‘for the interests of Britain, its values and its people.’
New Labour had, Mr Brown said, left behind it a country that was ‘more democratic, more prosperous and more just; a truly greater Britain.’
Gordon Brown’s exit showed much of the dignity that was sadly lacking during his three year tenure as prime minister. As a leader he will be remembered for one truly ‘great’ moment, when he led the world in facing up to the financial crisis of autumn 2008 and a long list of, often self imposed, disasters beginning with the election that never was back in 2007 and ending with the comments about Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy that destroyed his chances of winning the one he couldn’t duck.
As a man Gordon Brown will be remembered for his intellect and his doggedness in the face of personal tragedy, he will also be remembered as a scowling political schemer with a volatile temper and a poor understanding of the people he led. A gifted man brought down in the end as much by the flaws contained within his character as the events that characterised his term of office.
Accepting the task of leading a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats new prime minister David Cameron pledged to ‘help build a more responsible society’ and to support ‘the frail, the elderly, the poorest in out country.’
He also recognised the scale of the economic and social challenged Britain faces in the coming years saying the country would have to ‘face up to out big challenges, to confront our problems, take difficult decisions, so that together we can reach better times.’
The question now is whether the new government will be led by ‘Dave’ the husky cuddling darling of the metropolitan elite or ‘David’ the steely old style, meaning pre Thatcherite, Tory he has portrayed himself as in recent years. Perhaps his best chance of success lies in the combination of the two that emerged so engagingly on the campaign trail, a man capable of understanding the social problems crated by the Conservative governments of the eighties but unafraid of making a case for people working with the state to solve their problems as opposed to sitting back and waiting to be rescued.
Whatever facet of his political character emerges as dominant it is clear that David Cameron will have to be a prime minister like no other Britain has ever known. His first press conference with new deputy Nick Clegg at his side was an amicable affair, the tightrope of leading a government that depends on achieving a consensus between partners rather than using its majority to drive through legislation will be a monumental challenge.
Great challenges though bring with them great opportunities, if the new politics of partnership can be made to work, however unlikely the partners themselves might be this really could be the beginning of a more democratic and progressive settlement. Although it may not seem like it now that might, in time, give hope and opportunity to whatever comes to replace a beaten and discredited Labour Party.