Things I thought

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Don't Look Directly At It

It's hard not to have a begrudging awe for The Sun newspaper. They can take a seemingly uninspiring story - "one eyed man bad at handwriting" for example, or "grieving woman upset" - and produce a multi-day blockbuster that other news outlets fall over each other to report.

The transcript of a private telephone conversation between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a bereaved housewife is breathtaking for all sorts of reasons. It throws up a huge number of questions. Why did the PM make the call? Was he advised to do it, or was this fiasco his idea? Was he actually intending to apologise? Did he feel guilty? Was it all a PR exercise? And whose first instinct, on being told they are being put through to the Prime Minister, is to reach for a tape recorder?

This is undoubtedly a scoop for The Sun: a story that, with the inclusion of the tapes, verges on journalism. The raw data - Brown's umming, erring, awkward, miserable style of speech throughout a conversation we were never meant to hear - tells us volumes about our current leadership. The Sun's breathless attempts to ring every drop of scandal and outrage from the PM's words rings false in the face of such personal failure. It is hard, in fact, not to feel sorry for him. One can feel the conversation slipping away on his behalf - Mrs Janes, at one point, complains of being 'brought down' to the level of conversing with our Premier. What on earth was he trying to achieve? Perhaps, one wonders, he has a Messiah Complex. Perhaps he believes, somehow, that just by calling this distraught woman up that he could make right the death of her son?

But as juicy and voyeuristic as this insight into the private musings and possibly unwell mind of our Prime Minister undoubtedly is, it also implies something disturbing about the climate of the country. Assuming, for a moment, that the Sun did not specifically instruct Mrs Janes to make the recording, the newspaper must still have known the recording was made illegally. There is nothing on the tape to indicate that Brown was made aware that he was being taped. While I somewhat doubt that Brown will be dragging Mrs Janes through the courts over her infringement of the data protection act (though it's hard to see how such a move could damage himany further. When things are this fucked, why not just have some fun with it?) it's worrying that our PM, along with most politicians, is held in such utter contempt by the public and media that such definitely illegal and arguably immoral behaviour isn't even questioned.

Let's not forget: this entire 'scandal' arose because the Prime Minister made the choice to send personally hand written letters to the families of the war dead. Had he chosen a less time consuming, less personal option then the mistake - and thus the scandal - would likely not have happened. Indeed, looking at the letter, and as a possessor of fantastically shit handwriting myself, I can well believe that error was one of transcription rather than, er, spelling. In any case, the entire thing feels vaguely reminiscent of the expenses scandal - the public are outraged over mistakes and infractions which they themselves are entirely guilty of. The Sun, in particular, should be the last to criticise declining standards in writing.

But, of course, The Sun, in their dark genius, have tied this in to the 'wider issue': our New Labour Government doesn't care about the armed forces! Where oh where were the Merlin Helicopters that could have safely airlifted poor Jamie to hospital, as a curiously on-message Mrs Janes asked the PM? If he were a more callous man he might have replied that the helicopters were never bought because, at £28 million a pop, the money was better spent elsewhere. On thirty new heart surgeons, for example, or over a thousand chemotherapy courses.

But the Prime Minister didn't make these arguments, perhaps aware that the 'big picture' was not this poor woman's primary concern. She wanted someone to blame, and that person was to be Gordon Brown, no matter what he said in his defence. There has never been a war in history that has been fought with 'sufficient' resources: the nature of conflict itself dictates that whatever is available will be stretched to breaking point, and beyond. Once again, the shrieking, adolescent focus of the tabloids has distracted us from reality and left us blind to the truth, almost as if we'd been staring straight into The Sun.

Post Script: My spellchecker doesn not recognise the word "Janes". How dare blogger disrespect the memory of our brave boys fighting for our blah blah blah...


  1. I agree because what you say is right - and beautifully argued.

    But I hate this government so much I wouldn't care if Gordon Brown had cured cancer while he was our unelected Prime Minister (and resurrected my beloved grandad who quit this world in 1982), I still want that unelected nation-killer out of power faster than you can type "rightwing".

    I'm not the only one.

  2. I'm well aware you aren't the only one. Or, if you are the only one, the pollsters have been having some pretty heavy lunches of late.

    I, personally, also hope Labour roundly lose the next election. We have had thirty years of right wing government, but for the last 12 it's been living under a pseudonym. At least with the Tories we'll know where we stand - knee deep in shit.