Yesterday I bought a ticket for the worst lottery ever. The jackpot? An hour-long lecture from Gordon Brown.
The former Prime Minister is in Harvard next week, breaking his self-imposed silence to take on a visiting fellowship at the Kennedy School of Government. In most circumstances, I would have no objection – but it just so happens that I, too, am at the Kennedy School, studying for a one-year Masters in Public Administration. Having spent much of the past decade following Mr Brown around the world, in my role as this newspaper’s Economics Editor, I now find my past returning to haunt me – the awkward press conferences, the stultifying briefings, the uncomfortable drinks receptions…
Brown will be hanging out in Harvard for a few days, in what is more a whistlestop tour of the Kennedy School than a meaningful period of academic tenure. He’ll be popping into the odd class, holding a seminar, trying to ease his way gently back into public life. And there can be few better places for him to do it: for anyone with even a passing interest in how the world works, the Kennedy School is a phenomenal place. At any moment, there are a dozen classes available on everything from how to become an American President, to how to balance ethics and foreign policy, or pull countries out of poverty and civil war. Would-be politicians mingle with ardent campaigners, high-flying civil servants and even the odd journalist. Within a few years, this bunch (well, apart from the journalists) will be ruling the world.
Of course, as I pointed out on my Telegraph blog earlier this week, Mr Brown might find some of the subject matter a little uncomfortable. For example, there are excellent classes on public finance and international capital markets, which might remind him of how thoroughly he debauched Britain’s fiscal reputation. Then there’s “Decision-Making in Recent Crises”, which is nominally about Iraq and Afghanistan, but could also help him when it comes to such testy issues as making his mind up about, oh, elections, welfare reforms or whether he gets on with Peter Mandelson. He might also enjoy “The Art of Communication”, where they occasionally show videos of great speeches from history. Perhaps they could pull out his YouTube moments, or give a brief demonstration of how to turn off a radio mic?
The jibes of an embittered Brit aside, Brown should find himself with a captive audience here. He may have been widely derided at home, but throughout most of the world he is still rather well-regarded from his time at the Treasury, and his role in the financial crisis. Hence the demand for tickets for his big speech on Thursday night, and the institution of the egalitarian allocation system that I’ve decided to call “El Gordo”, aka “The fat one”, after the famously generous Spanish lottery, and its equally dazzling prizes (I won’t actually be in town for the speech itself, but I’ve decided to apply on the principle that if I do get a seat, I’ll know that fate really does have it in for me).
However, even on the leafy streets of Cambridge, MA, Mr Brown will be unable completely to escape his past. For it turns out that there is a serpent in this Eden: and, as ever in Mr Brown’s life, his name is Tony Blair.
Brown’s predecessor came to town earlier this week, on the latest leg of his book tour (sandwiching Harvard neatly between Washington and Jerusalem). He spoke, inevitably, in a church near Harvard Square. No eggs were thrown, though there was an old chap outside asking forlornly if anyone with a ticket would consider making a citizen’s arrest.
Inside the hall, it was vintage Blair (if there is such a thing): charisma, the odd joke, such as the Queen’s acid comment to him when the Helen Mirren biopic came out: “I hear they’ve made a film about us. I don’t plan to see it”, and no substance whatsoever. The only difference is that he’s no longer afraid to lay into his successor in public. When asked why he didn’t get on with his Chancellor, he replied: “Gordon’s in town next week. Go see him. Then you might understand.”
I suspect Mr Brown will be more than a little miffed when he realises he still hasn’t escaped the ghosts of his past. All I can say to my new classmate is: Gordon – I feel your pain.
This article orginally appeared in The Daily Telegraph