Monday, October 20, 2008

The limits of narrative...

OK, so I have a definite fixation on the importance of political narratives.  And, when I got back from India, I detected a new narrative in the process of being created: Brown the superhero, whose grasp of economics had re-invigorated his premiership and put Labour back in contention; the economic crisis had been averted only by Brown's prompt action.

Now the thing about narratives is that they only stick when they have an innate plausibility.  No point trying to make Boris look like a far-right thug - it lacks credibility. No point trying to make Gordon Brown into a glamorous figure - he simply isn't. But two questions do arise: can they make Brown look like the saviour of the situation; and will it matter electorally?

On the first point, they might well do, in the short term at least. The financial sector has been shored up against collapse, and a mass failure of the banks now looks unlikely. However, this will not avert a recession - could not in fact, since the recession was the cause of the financial crisis, not its result. Once the recession starts to bite, however, the public will forget the rescue of Bradford & Bingley, except insofar as to question why their company isn't being bailed out. So, as to Brown's long-term image I'm not sure how much the recent events will matter.

And, with regard to the second question, it probably won't matter anyway. People have stopped listening to Labour. There are no real cabinet heavyweights except for Peter Mandelson - a name indelibly linked with lies and sleaze. The politician to have lost most from the credit crunch so far has been David Miliband - Labour have almost certainly lost their chance to replace Brown before the next election.  And even now, at a time when wall-to-wall coverage of Labour is drowning out the Tories and Lib Dems, Labour is well behind in the polls - by 12 points in ICM's latest. For all the efforts of Labour and their supporters, this narrative of doom and defeat is too firmly entrenched in the public imagination to be dispelled that quickly.

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