These days saying it’s been a bad week for Gordon Brown tends to prompt the question ‘does he have any other kind?’
As ever his misfortune is mostly the product of his own by now legendary social awkwardness. This time round he has been in the firing line for spelling the name of Grenadier Guardsman Jamie Janes as James in a handwritten letter of condolence sent to the boy’s mother.
Speaking to the Sun newspaper, no friend of the Labour Party these days, Mrs Janes said the mistake made her feel ‘so angry’ and matters were made no better by the poor state of Gordon Brown’s handwriting, about which Mrs Janes said : The letter was scrawled so quickly I could hardly even read it.’
To his credit Brown telephoned Mrs Janes to apologise, but with the sort of bad luck that only he seems to attract the transcript of the call in which she berated him about the lack of decent equipment for British troops fighting in Afghanistan made the front page of the Sun the day after.
You have to feel for a mother who lost a son in a war that no longer has the support of the British public or, it seems, any purpose beyond avoiding the embarrassment of pulling the troops out and admitting that nothing can be done. She had every right to take Gordon Brown, or any other politician for that matter, to task about the shameful way this country treats its troops.
It would be hard though not to feel a little sympathy at least for Brown who told the press following the incident ‘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 offend. After all however awkward the presentation he does act in good faith, or at least what he believes to be good faith anyway.
And yet sympathy has been in noticeably short supply, the accusations thrown at Brown range from the practical, someone in his office should have proof read the letter before it was sent, to the hysterical with the PM being accused of disrespecting the brave boys who lay down their lives for this country and, since he didn’t bow his head when laying a wreath a the cenotaph last Sunday the memory of the dead of the two world wars too.
Just why is it that we refuse to ever cut Gordon Brown any slack, other Prime Ministers have been unpopular but none to my knowledge have been subject to the constant deluge of criticism and ridicule directed at the present incumbent.
Ok he is the author of many of his own misfortunes from failing to call an election in the autumn of 2007 through the 10p tax debacle to this week’s announcement that child care vouchers are to be snatched away from the majority of working parents. Brown exhibits a wooden headed determination to follow policy decisions that have been demonstrated to be wrong because like all fundamentally weak men he fears changing his mind will highlight his weakness.
He made few friends amongst Labour Party grassroots members when he pledged to abandon spin, remember the phrase ‘not flash just Gordon?, and then proceeded to lead a government that spins like a top. Treating the party leadership as his for the taking without the people who plod the streets posting leaflets for the party having a say was also an arrogant mistake.
In person I suspect Gordon Brown, like Edward Heath before him is an awkward and rather selfish man with no small talk and little interest in life outside Westminster; not for him the hinterland of interests that keeps politicians sane and in touch with the world of the people they govern. When, as it will next year, his time in Downing Street comes to an end the rest of his life will, like that of Heath, be a void filled with resentment.
All of these things make him a less than sympathetic man, but not a man undeserving of sympathy.
The fact that the media and by extension much of the British public are rather enjoying the slow implosion of Mr Brown’s ambitions says something not at all nice about our character. Just like the sort of children who stand and laugh when a smaller boy cries because he was pushed over in the playground it amuses us to see him hurt because the hurt shows. Doubtless Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair were plagued by dark nights of the soul and frequently doubted their ability to bear the great burden of office; Churchill, the greatest man ever to hold the office of Prime Minister was haunted all his life by a depression he called his ‘black dog’, but in public all three presented a front of dauntless optimism, however grave the situation.
Gordon Brown does not have that ability, every slight from a newspaper columnist who never took a decision more difficult that choosing to have tea or coffee, every jibe in the commons from a disgruntled back bencher who believes he should have been made a minister, every stick; every stone leaves a visible scar on his increasingly haggard face. Like a boxer being pummelled on the ropes the question is not if but rather when he will go down for the count.
All politicians enter their trade knowing that their every action will be subject to criticism, that is only right in a democratic country, but every now and again they way in which we highlight their failings throws an unflattering light on our own.