His supporters say he's ready. Not long now and he'll take us all the way to glory, sweeping all before him. Those with cooler heads are sceptical. Does he really have what it takes, is he fit, can he - against the odds - fulfil the nation's expectations, hopes and dreams? Yes, the big question on everybody's lips is 'Can Gordon Brown really become Prime Minister?'
This week former Tory MP turned pundit Matthew Parris joined the bandwagon set rolling by even more right-wing politicians (Tony Blair's close New Labour colleagues reportedly running a Stop Brown campaign). 'He is not a persuader, he is not a salesman, he is not a visionary. He is not a diplomat, he is not a deal-maker, he is not a peacekeeper and he does not soothe... Gordon Brown is not a thinker,' was Parris' don't-beat-about-the-bush-speak-as-I-find verdict.
Left-wing pundits, politicians and voters should be pondering the same question. Particularly when opinion polls show that voters want to vote for David Cameron with Blair as PM but *really* want to vote for Cameron with Brown as PM. Or alternatively, in a week where the Chancellor of the Exchequer and odds-on next *Labour* Prime Minister stood before millionaire business leaders and told them low paid public sector workers could stick their hopes for better wages up their arses, they could be asking 'What's the point of Gordon Brown?' Or the Labour Party (party of the working classes, as was) for that matter.
This was before he pontificated that immigrants 'should have to learn English to make themselves employable' as if the public is being impeded from buying its burgers, pornography and Sandi Thom CDs by herds of asylum seekers saying 'Vot is Nuts, pliz?' over and over again. (This is what's known as a 'dogwhistle' announcement - most people shrugged and went 'fair enough, s'pose' whereas Daily Mail and Express readers and BNP voters sat up and salivated.) He's made to look doubly idiotic by recently released research showing that demand for English classes in Britain has risen by 65 per cent in the last two years and yet the Government has done nothing to address a chronic shortage of English-as-a-foreign-language teachers.
Plus, it's a bit rich coming from a man who can stand up and say, 'Having concluded that outside high risk areas the regulatory focus should be on advice not inspection and that data sharing should avoid duplication of requirements on business...' in a speech for public consumption. He makes your average newly- arrived immigrant sound like Stephen Fry in comparison.
Brown's also the chief cheerleader for the Private Finance Initiative, that financial find-the-lady scam where private businesses build schools and hospitals and then the taxpayer pays for them over decades, paying far more for them (juicy profits for the contractors, do you see?) than if the Government had put its hand in its pocket or borrowed the money at a cheaper interest rate than are available to private businesses (governments can't go bankrupt and so are a safe bet when it comes to lending them money). It's cheap misdirection - while we're all paying the bills for donkey's years, Gordon can say 'look at all these lovely shiny buildings we have, and they haven't cost me a bean.'
To give him his due, he's made a lurching attempt at making himself presentable to voters by pretending to like the Arctic Monkeys (They 'really wake you up in the morning,' was his incisive verdict on pop's last big thing). He also made a jingoistic call the other week for the Union Flag to be flown outside every building across the country (it's to be wondered if he's looking out of his window right now at World Cup-crazy England and congratulating himself with, 'well, it's a start'). And a couple of weeks ago the 'keen' Raith Rovers 'supporter' made a self-loathing and degrading attempt at ingratiating himself with bigoted English voters and newspaper columnists, who are reaching for the smelling salts at the mere thought of a Scottish Prime Minister, by claiming one of his favourite football memories is Paul Gascoigne scoring against Scotland in Euro 96. He's clearly desperate to be PM but what's next? Announcing his favourite movie moment is William Wallace getting carved up at the end of 'Braveheart'? Saying Connery was a shit Bond?
But despite these doomed attempts at appearing interesting and trying to impress people who hate every inch of his Scottish guts, you sense Brown's heart really isn't in it when it comes to his own Blair-style reinvention in preparation for his coronation. Take that slack-jawed thing he does with his mouth when he breathes. Why doesn't he keep Rory Bremner on his toes by breathing through his nose? And would it kill him to wash his hair now and again? He looks like a dosser, for God's sake.
In this respect he's going to be like the new Doctor Who. Blair will regenerate into Brown, the stories will skip along in the same diverting fashion but the lead character will lack the attributes that made his predecessor so darkly and morbidly fascinating. As with David Tennant, sure, he's *OK* but he lacks the sparkling yet tragic menace of the last bloke. Like the present incumbent of the Tardis, there's not really enough about Brown to make you like him or, for that matter, hate him.
To put it another way, Brown will be the Quorn Prime Minister - flavourless yet serviceable ballast to which you resignedly subject yourself in the nagging knowledge there are juicier, tastier, more exciting treats not too far away. People will listlessly take Brown to their bosoms in the same unenthusiastic way that the self-denying brand of vegetarians pretends to like tofu.
On the other hand, it would be quite nice to have a few years of quiet normality after the death, destruction, fireworks, tears, pigheadedness, tantrums, vomit, lies, explosions, incompetence, scandal, blood, mayhem, screaming and bloody-mindedness of the Blair era. That isn't to say that New Labour under a Brown premiership won't have some of those traits. Like an abusive husband who, having promised never to do it again, it's likely to revert to terrifying type at any given moment.
In the last nine years Mr Saviour-of-the-Party (copyright: chief Brown cheerleader, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee. Christ, she never shuts up about him. You just want to shout, 'GET A ROOM!') has been guilty of many of the tricks, deceptions and dark New Labour arts traditionally associated with his slippery, shifty boss and deadly rival, Blair. He's not above announcing the same increase in spending a number of times to make it look like more money. He's been known to leak budget statements to tame newspapers before the official announcement in order to catch the headlines. And he never, *ever*, fronts up when things go pear-shaped - the latest example being this week when he scuttled off to Brussels for a finance meeting rather than attend the debate in Parliament called to find out why his flagship and much praised (by him) Tax Credits system (a system so inept it would shame a GCSE Computer Studies student) has overpaid families to the tune of two billion pounds for the second year running and left many struggling to pay back the money.
Some are now suggesting that Brown might not be the shoe-in for the Big Chair he was previously assumed to be. His time is past. He's not likeable. People don't know what he thinks on the major issues of the day (apart from the Arctic Monkeys). He's too tied up with the horrors of the Blair years. Some, notably the aforementioned Parris, are taking a punt on the current Education Secretary Alan Johnson as a possible alternative. Presumably because, with his working class credentials, union roots and barrow-boy accent, the Tories can then paint him as some under-educated oik and give him a pasting. But he's an ex-postman (he delivered letters to John Prescott's former croquet venue, Dorneywood, no less), a fan of Proportional Representation, and steeped in the union tradition. Certainly sounds like a man traditional Labour voters could get behind.
Hang on, though. He helped make university tuition fees a reality, which are going to make it harder for poorer students to get into higher education. He's now in charge of establishing trust schools and city academies which it's thought are going to make it harder for poorer children to get into good schools. The next *Labour* Prime Minister, you say?
Oh well. It's all material for the struggling pundit.
Next week: 'What's the point of Alan Johnson?'