Pity for the Prime Minister
Poor old Gordon Brown. Not a sentence I write very often – at least not without a certain frisson of schadenfreude – but appropriate in this case. Nothing sums up the problems that Gordon Brown has faced as Prime Minister better than this: when seeking to apologise to the mother of a dead soldier for making careless spelling mistakes in his letter of condolence, Gordon Brown assured us:
I have at all times acted in good faith seeking to do the right thing. I do not think anyone will believe that I write letters with any intent to cause offence.
For the first time since he became Prime Minister I feel genuinely sorry for him here. Of course he didn’t intentionally cause offence. Of course his motives were sincere, and his intentions good. It is his incapacity to communicate this that has been his problem. The man is emotionally tone deaf. The transcript of the phone call makes for painful reading (and not simply because it should never have been placed in the public domain – some things are and should remain private). Even when ringing up to apologise to a mother who has lost her son, he cannot bring himself simply to say sorry – he tries to justify himself, he denies that he made mistakes, and he finds himself getting into an argument over it all.
All that was needed to finish this story was an unqualified apology. Get it over with, before you’re asked for it, and then stop talking about it. Excellent advice from a Prime Minister who did get it.
What then of the wider implications of this story? The first is that it is war between the Sun and the Government. You can draw this conclusion not merely from the story itself – any tabloid would have seen this for the news story it is, the running of the story is not evidence of journalism beyond the pale – but from the response of the Government.
On one level, of course, the sight of Peter Mandelson alleging a ‘contract’ between News International and the Tories – with the Tories to pay back favours in Government – and claiming that the Sun’s support for the Tories will damage the impartiality of the BBC is nauseating in its hypocrisy. But apart from that, it is an indication that the Government have factored into their thinking a consistently hostile Sun and consider that they have nothing to lose in all-out war. It is a reflection in some ways of Obama’s response to Fox News, and will I suspect be equally self-defeating – doubly so for Labour in fact, as the Sun supported them in the previous three elections – if the support of the Sun was desirable then, and presumably not a threat to democracy, why not now?
It does make that debate look a bit less likely though doesn’t it?