There is a scene in Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein where Dr Frankenstein dresses the monster in white tie and tails and does a song-and-dance routine with him. The monster is stiff and clunky, going through the motions of human activity with a fixed parody of a smile on his face, as Gene Wilder’s Frankenstein parades him in front of an audience who instinctively fear him. Frankenstein mutters encouraging commands to the monster whilst assuring the audience that he is under control.
All goes well for a while, until a foot-light explodes. The monster reverts to type and goes beserk. The audience flees in terror with their prejudices confirmed. For a brief moment, they had been persuaded that the characteristics inherent in a brute could be suppressed and ordinary human ones acquired, but the true nature of the beast had broken through under pressure.
I was reminded of this scene when watching Gordon Brown give his speech on his return to Downing Street from Buckingham Palace. So far, we are still at the Puttin’ on the Ritz stage, the forced smile holding up, the legs and arms and body going through the unfamiliar public motions like the monster in the film.
Brown’s Frankenstein is his close team of advisers who groom him for his unfamiliar role in front of the people. The tricks they teach him are as hard to learn as tap dancing is to a gorilla. “Smile Gordon” they say into his earpiece. “Wave – raise your right arm and move it gently from side to side. Look at the crowd at the same time. Don’t stop smiling!”
The result, said Simon Carr in the Independent, is that Brown “waved without waving…his hand… palm-up to a position just in front of him, as though patting the bottom of an invisible cherub”. In other words, it bore the same relation to waving as Frankenstein’s monster clunking about the stage bore to Fred Astaire.
Young Frankenstein has another parallel for Gordon Brown. The Police Inspector has a false arm which occasionally twitches upwards out of its owner’s control and has to be pulled down with the other arm. As part of a running gag, the false arm is sometimes the right and sometimes the left. We will see much the same, I think, as Gordon Brown’s Stalinist tendencies break out and are – or at least their outward symptoms are – as quickly suppressed. I doubt we will laugh as much, however.
Brown will keep it up for a bit no doubt. Then the equivalent of an exploding foot-light will go off in his face and he will revert to type. The veneer of civilised conduct, so painfully acquired, will fall away.
As Chancellor, he could shut himself up in the Treasury when this happened. As Prime Minister he will be exposed, with nowhere to hide when the going gets tough. Blair was always at his best under such pressure – even when you knew that every word was a lie, an exaggeration or a cover-up, you could not help but be impressed with the act – the easy charm, the well-chosen words, the fluent counter-attack.
Brown will not be like that. The big, clunking fist, the pounding repetition of the phrases which he wants us to hear regardless of relevance or context, the loss of any coherent argument in the fury at having to justify himself, this will be Brown’s reaction to criticism and it will, I hope, be the undoing of him. The smile and the waving are as dishonest as the stealth taxes, the triple application of the same money, the spending disguised as “investment” and all the other tricks of his time as Chancellor.
In Young Frankenstein, the monster breaks out of the theatre and wanders the countryside roaring in the night, whilst his keepers try to calm him down. Eventually he is soothed by a violin, trapped and given an operation which supplies him with the human characteristics which he could not learn.
I don’t see the Gordon Brown story ending like that. I would like to see him torn apart by pensioners whom he has impoverished, or by blinded victims of Macular Degeneration who could have been saved by a readily available drug (Lucentis or Avastin) which PCTs refuse to give in order to save NHS money. I don’t think, alas, that this will happen either.
A more realistic wish is that he is turned out of Downing Street by the electorate in a couple of years’ time and sent miserably into the wilderness whilst Tony Blair gives us an analysis of his failures on television. The Frankenstein team will have done their best, but the audience will know what to expect when the monster dances across the stage again. Can’t wait to watch it.