An embattled and unpopular political leader doesn't generally enhance his standing at home by means of a transatlantic photo-opportunity with the head of a lame-duck administration that evinces little interest in the outside world. But George Bush has evidently decided to ignore the risk of taint by association, and is visiting Gordon Brown next month regardless.
That's a generous gesture in the circumstances. We now know that Brown has a lower approval rating as PM than John Major did, and that Labour under Brown is a less electorally appealing proposition than the party was under Michael Foot.
Stephen Pollard, who has long been a Brown-basher, has his own take on the PM's plight. I would put it this way. It's a common theme among sympathetic and critical media commentators alike that, as PM, Brown has confounded his political and intellectual promise. This seems to me a serious misreading. The PM has in fact fulfilled what political observers knew of him. Consider the official evidence of a report last December, commissioned by Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary. As The Times reported its conclusions:
The most scathing criticism involves the Treasury’s failure to work with other Whitehall departments. During his ten years as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Brown surrounded himself with a small coterie of advisers who dictated policy from the Treasury. Other departments were largely expected to fall in line with little negotiation or consultation.
What Gordon Brown wrought at HMT is how he handles government now. As the head of an administration he is useless. This is not merely a story of hubris: a man who plotted obsessively for more than a decade to become PM, and then found his attainment turn to ashes. It's a more prosaic story of incompetence and bluster. Brown was never up to the job. He has been a block on effective government since 1997. He also did more than anyone to undermine Tony Blair as Labour leader.
Imagine how history might have been different. If Blair had not run for the Labour leadership after the death of John Smith in 1994, and left the field clear for Brown, it would have been a catastrophic mistake for Labour and a severe one for the country.