Gordon Brown is getting a bad press and so the papers are full of profiles of the man and 'analysis' about what has gone wrong. Most of it is staggeringly dreary. A lot is speculation or just the tittle-tattle of court politics rather than the real, meaty stuff of democracy. There was just one bit of this verbiage that grabbed my attention. OK it was by a former aide, Tom Clark, one of those rarefied beasts who promise us a glimpse of the real person we are not allowed to know too well, but some of it rang true. Reciting a familiar theme of the Brownites, Clark sees Brown, in contrast to Blair, as a genuine social democrat. However, he also sees him as sunk in pessimism about what could be done.
It was not that he could not articulate his vision - at a private Labour meeting in 2004 I heard him give as articulate an account of the party's purpose as any I have heard. Rather, he was profoundly pessimistic about what the voters would tolerate - and as a result said almost nothing in public that he thought might offend anyone. Not trusting others to share his instincts, his aides would talk about securing "rightwing cover" before signing up to any radical policy.
Clark then makes a highly pertinent point, central to New Labour's strategy:
"... a cautious reading of what the voters want is the inevitable price for power. The alternative stance - no compromise with the electorate! - is the shortest route to oblivion".
Cautious, yes. But cynical? Does the government really think that the electorate has no morality? Do they reckon that the voters who have delivered the worst results for the Tory Party since 1832 have really done so because they are Conservatives? Apparently so. But then we have to realise who the electorate really are.
Politicians are not thinking of everyone on the electoral roll, nor even the diminishing proportion of them who actually vote. The only voters who matter in our system are new and swing voters in marginal constituencies. The Electoral Reform Society has calculated that an election could be decided by as few as 8,000 people. The party that gets their views right wins.
Politics is about real things that happen to millions of real people living real lives. If all that matters is keeping a mere eight thousand of them sweet, we are looking at a major failure of representation, particularly of the poor. Remember the 1997 manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on electoral reform? It is easy to forget as the temptation of a vast majority led it to be brushed aside by a typical tactic, a report to be quietly shelved. After the shambles of the abolition of the 10p tax rate it doesn't seem such a bad idea after all. Perhaps then, when the votes of the poor actually matter, we might hear a voice speak for equality.