Hold the front page! Hold all the front pages (well, here in Britain at least). Last week Prime Minister Gordon Brown was persuaded, against his better judgement, to reveal his “human side” to former tabloid journalist turned chat show host Piers Morgan. Days later, and all is forgotten, as the headlines scream that Brown is a “bully to his staff” in Number 10 Downing Street.
This then is British politics, at a time when the country is in the deepest recession since the Great Depression, and uniquely poorly placed to get out of it in any meaningful way.
First we see Brown painfully offering his soul, recounting how he and his wife so tragically lost their first child within days of its birth. And while there is nothing contrived about the genuine grief on display, there is something faintly disturbing at the depth to which tabloid journalism forces such abject surrender and the political calculations by the Brown camp as to how this will play with the voters.
Brown has been repeatedly pilloried for his somewhat reserved and wooden style, but sadly has chosen to listen to those in the media who want to egg him on, to build him up before they kick him down again. In reality, while voters have never truly warmed to him, they don’t expect him to become all “touchy feely”. More, they seem to be saying, keep to the dour Scottish script, because we don’t want show men. In recent weeks, Brown’s Labour Party has been clawing itself, inch by inch, up the polls again and in the process threatening to deprive Cameron’s Conservatives of an overall majority.
And then, bang! Crash! Wallop! Suddenly the newspapers are live with fresh claims that Brown bawls out staff, throws paper and cans at some of them and even grabs one of them by the jacket lapel, before bellowing out extremities. Even taking into account the fact that a) the claims are made by a journalist, Andrew Rawnsley in a new book and b) that this new book is serialised in the newspaper he writes for, and c) that the same newspaper, The Observer is re-launched on the same day, these claims are explosive.
But they are clearly hyped and exaggerated, timed of course for both maximum impact and publicity.
I have witnessed the mercurial Brown as his mood switched to sudden, smouldering anger, and since this happened well over a decade ago, it obviously left an impression. One minute I was in mid interview with Brown, the next the door opened to reveal a young emissary from Tony Blair. The spotty youth explained that “Tony” would be walking to the House of Commons slightly earlier than had been planned with Brown, and with someone else. At this point, Brown’s demeanour darkened, and he flung the pencil that had been in his hand down with such velocity that it bounced off the table.
So Brown has a temper? He does indeed, and it wasn’t such a good idea to despatch loyalist Ministers onto the airwaves to deny outright that he did. Unfortunately for them and Brown, such was their vehement denial that the “National Bullying Hotline” felt obliged to reveal that there had been a number of complaints of bullying in Number 10, and that one member of staff is still off sick because of it.
None of this actually means that Brown is guilty of bullying or even physical assault himself. Being bad tempered and lashing out at inanimate objects cannot be the worst of crimes. But what these allegations do show, and without doubt, is that for too long the Prime Minister has allowed himself to be surrounded by testosterone filled, sports obsessed middle aged men whose bad temper mirrors that of their boss. In fact it is often a good deal worse.
He, and they, need to get a life.