Brown picks a battleground

January 13, 2007

Gordon Brown has selected one of the battlefields for his forthcoming leadership contest against David Cameron. He has marked the tercentenary of the Act of Union to present his patriotic vision. By writing in The Telegraph he indicates that he will seek to appeal to the traditional Conservative voter. The story steers a carefully crafted path around issues such as the Common Market, diversity, and Margaret Thatcher’s political legacy.

When Gordon Brown speaks at present, commentators look for the leadership story behind his specific mssage. Why has he selected this story over others? To what degree is it a matter of necessity or of convenience? If his schedule takes him to Scotland he will of necessity want ‘good’ coverage of a message that is important at that point in space and time. He will also want the message to be aligned with a long-term set of political values and strategic aims.

Today he writes in the Daily Telegraph. This is, therefore, a message the timing and placing of which have not been forced by a short-term diary commitment. In the UK culture, a (New) Labour politician who writes for the (Conservative favouring) Daily Telegraph is already sending out a political signal. He has something to say with a calculated chance of influencing core Tory voters and thus of note to Tory leaders and activists. David Cameron, who has been working at broadening the appeal of the Conservative opposition, would be preaching to the converted, although he may feel obliged to indicate to traditional conservative voters through The Telegraph that he is not deserting them.

Brown’s battlefield: A manifesto for Britishness

So what battlefield did Brown select? It is no less than a threat to the Union, the philosophic core of the concept of the United Kingdom. The article is entitled We Need a United Kingdom.
In it, Gordon Brown sets out his leadership stall.

A national debate about Britishness and the future of Britain is overdue and there is no more appropriate moment than the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union. It is now time for supporters of the Union to speak up, to resist any drift towards a Balkanisation of Britain, and to acknowledge Great Britain for the success it has been and is: a model for the world of how nations can not only live side by side, but be stronger together but weaker apart.

Aligning the message

The article shows evidence of considerable crafting. It touches on several political trigger points. The common market? The Union was the original British Common Market. Today’s conservatives? Squandering the legacy of the beloved Margaret Thatcher.

The Telegraph headlines the story as Brown’s Manifesto for Britishness

‘Gordon Brown issues a stark warning today that the Union of England and Scotland is under threat 300 years after it created one of the world’s most successful and enduring nations .. Writing in The Daily Telegraph to mark the tercentenary of the merger of the two parliaments in 1707, he stakes a bold claim to be the champion of Unionism against a “dangerous drift” to separatism’

Brown’s Scottishness will come into play in the leadership battles to come, or maybe it will be his lack of Englishness. English voters will be made aware of his ‘weakness’ of being an outsider. It will be difficult for him to play to certain nationalist tunes.

As for timing, the article and the Telegraph indicate that it is to mark the 300th Anniversary of the Union. However, there are other possibilities. A BBC report on the article notes that ‘The pro-Scottish independence SNP is tipped to do well in the Scottish Parliament elections in May, with the independence debate likely to crop up often in the campaign’.

Brown is able to craft his threat around the campaigning stance of the Scottish Nationalists. He is also able to argue that the Conservatives are moving away from the pro-Union legacy of Margaret Thatcher (another good point for Telegraph readers). So the preservation of the Union is a sound battle arena. And Gordon is good on soundness.