Is there any room today for the prophet or the oddball? In politics, even Boris Johnson, who used to cheer everyone up, is no longer the unifying entertainer he once was. Since attaching himself to Brexit he has become a divisive figure. According to the Spectator, his Tory enemies are out to nobble him.
Boris is not the first foreign secretary in recent times whose suitability for office has been questioned. Another was George Brown. He is forgotten now, but in his time he was the most popular politician around. Richard Crossman described him as “a Jekyll and Hyde”, who had “this extraordinary public appeal which time after time earns him public forgiveness for gross misbehaviours and deficiencies … the most attractive member of Cabinet, certainly the most imaginative.”
Brown, Labour foreign secretary from 1966 to 1968, was the origin of the euphemism for drunk – “tired and emotional” – popularised by Private Eye and later adopted for the title of Peter Paterson’s lively biography, Tired and Emotional: the Life of Lord George-Brown (1993).
He was a brilliant campaigner and quick with repartee, but he would turn up slurring and aggressive on television and to Cabinet meetings. On March 2, 1976, the day he resigned from the Labour Party, he fell over in the street outside Parliament and had to be helped to his feet by reporters.
He was also brave. He swam against the fashionable currents of the time. He virulently opposed communism, and was one of the first to fight against the entryist tactics of Labour Trotskyists. He advocated Britain joining the EEC, when Hugh Gaitskell was warning that it would mean “the end of a thousand years of history”.
Unfortunately Brown, a lorry driver’s son brought up on an estate in Lambeth, was burdened with large chips on both shoulders, simmering resentments provoked by the public school Lefties who dominated the Labour front bench. It was typical of his chippiness that when he entered the House of Lords he added a hyphen to his name by deed poll (to make it “Lord George-Brown”) without bothering to discuss it with the Garter King of Arms.
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