Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for May, 2010

Gordon Brown

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I’ve never been Gordon Brown’s greatest fan – I doubt he has one – and there are many in the country and Labour party who would agree with me, but I’ve always held an admiration for a politician who clearly got into politics for what I’d describe as the right reasons.

That’s something that’s not always clear of all politicians, and it doesn’t seem a given these days, following Tony Blair – a man who seemed to be running an office rather than a country and who seemed more driven by the need to do a thorough job, rather than ideology.

I’m as aware of Brown’s failings and foibles as anyone, but for the most part I don’t care. This man was running a country; he wasn’t a vicar.

Brown was awkward, said many. He never smiled, and when he did he looked funny. He was sometimes rude to people, he was dictatorial and insecure. So what?

Brown found himself on the receiving end of far more vicious treatment that even Neil Kinnock. Every day people were told to ridicule, fear and despise Gordon Brown.

And so people came to ridicule, fear and despise him. Not because of the housing bubble than he arguably helped create, silly ideas like ID cards or flawed experiments like PFI.

No, people came to despise Brown because he didn’t look right. He was weak, they said, as if that means anything, He was ‘clinging to power’ – another baffling accusation at a sitting Prime Minister.

I suspect, if you were to ask people, they would be unable to tell you why they hated Brown so much. I doubt they know.

People seem to have been astonished to see a human being – clearly emotional – delivering a final, humble speech as PM with his wife and children.

Where was the stupid, lumbering bad-tempered brute? The power-hungry bully, intent on squatting in Number 10? The ‘one-eyed Scottish idiot’?

There, instead, was a man with quiet dignity, who spoke of his pride at serving his country and his dislike of the ceremony and prestige that went with it.

Gordon Brown’s main problem was to have been a Prime Minister in an age where society – spurred on by a hyperbolic media – cannot forgive human flaws in its PM.

I think, and I hope, history will be kinder to him.

Written by Robin Brown

May 11th, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Posted in Media,People

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A very British coup

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I speak not of Gordon Brown’s parting shot in the 2010 election – his pledge to resign to facilitate a deal between the Liberal Democrats and Labour – but of the extraordinary reaction by the Tory press to the news today.

If Brown thought he had endured the worst the assembled frothing, tweeded, spluttering, luv-a-duck rent-a-mob of assembled gobshites and nutcases had to throw at him, he was wrong.

Throughout the last couple of weeks, and through various twists and turns, one thing has become clear. The assembled weight of the media has been thrown well and truly behind Cameron and the Tories to almost unimaginable proportions.

The Tory press today suggested that no less than a coup was being perpetrated right under the noses of British subjects, and appears to be calling for its own in return.

What else to make of the claims that Brown is perpetuating a ‘sordid’ coup; or that Clegg has behaved ‘treacherously’?

Yesterday, says the Mail, was a ‘squalid day for democracy’. Inside, Richard Littlejohn railed against ‘nothing less than an attempted coup’, a ‘cynical putsch’ and a ‘naked power grab’.

He went on to state that Brown might as well have ‘ordered the tanks to roll down Whitehall and train their guns on the meeting of the Parliamentary Conservative Party’.

If he pulls off a Lib-Lab coalition, ‘democracy as we have known it in Britain will be shattered – possibly beyond repair’.

Astonishingly, Littlejohn even dares to have a pop at the ‘desperate Labour propaganda sheets’, while taking a pot-shot at the ‘the State broadcaster, the BBC’ for broadcasting lies about the Conservative party, the true hallmark of all swivel-eyed columnists.

To my mind, all of this goes well beyond anything the Tory press has managed before. The sheer brass neck, the hypocrisy, and the deliberate ignorance of parliamentary process. The right-wing press seems to have lost its grasp of the facts at hand.

The electoral system that they all back has produced a hung parliament, the mess that is responsible for all this back-room chicanery, but they want to keep it. (Note to Kay Burley: People did not ‘vote for a hung parliament’).

Brown, constitutionally, has the first right to try and form government, but allowed Clegg and Cameron to have the first shot at it, despite the resulting power vacuum.

The Conservative Party did not win the election. Combined, the Labour-Lib Dem share of the vote dwarfs the Tory share of the vote. Combined, Lib-Lab seats would eclipse Tory seats.

British politics in the 20th century is littered with unelected Prime Ministers, mostly Tory, as would be the case under a new Labour leader in a progressive coalition.

This is how hung parliaments work, this is how our electoral system works, this is how the constitution works. This is how politics works.

I’m personally dubious that a Lib-Lab coalition is the right result to come out of this election, but I’m not clear on what is the right result. No-one, to my mind, has a mandate. There is no victor.

But a Lib-Lab coalition would be perfectly constitutional and perfectly reasonable. It would be no more of a coup than a minority Tory government or a Lib-Con coalition, which is to say that it would be none at all.

The irony is, in complaining about Brown’s final act constituting nothing more than a ‘coup’- with all the talk about ‘treachery’ and ‘sordid’ politicking – the right-wing press appears to be calling for nothing less itself.

In a more fractious political, social or economic landscape, the language and tone deployed by tabloid editors and columnists across London screaming for Brown’s head could be explosive – and horribly irresponsible.

As it is, despite all the promises that the markets would not tolerate a hung parliament and that people would be burned to death on the streets, subsequently proved to be baseless, the press just looks like a spoiled child denied its way.

Brown may be affording himself a smile.

The first real casualty of the election is… Sky

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Seriously, what is it with Sky at the moment? While the press has, on the whole, thrown a bit of a wobbler because it didn’t get its own way over Cameron during this election, the broadcast media – Sky specifically – has suffered something akin to a nervous breakdown.

I think this is a crisis of confidence and direction on the Beeb, ITN and Sky, as they increasingly search for lines that are engaging to viewers yet don’t break any rules over impartiality.

As I’ve outlined before, I don’t believe the media really has an idea of how to do political reporting anymore, unless it can find hooks that it believes it needs to maintain the interest of the idiot population.

As has been evident throughout, the UK’s population has been far from passive – or idiotic – in the election; with Twitter protests, protests against the media and protests against Sky specifically, following Kay Burley’s bizarre outburst against David Babbs for daring to engage in his democratic right to protest.

For my money, Burley is simply an idiot who has no place anywhere near political reporting, and I don’t have much time for Adam Boulton either.

However, Boulton does have the right pedigree and seems to be generally respected as a political correspondent – until today.

Boulton absolutely lost it in an interview with Alastair Campbell today, who gently teased Boulton in the way that only he and Peter Mandelson truly can, over Boulton being secretly angry that Cameron may find his anointed path to Number 10 blocked by a brilliant bit of political chicanery by Gordon Brown.

Campbell is voicing what has been whispered less and stated openly more and more during the election campaign – that Sky’s coverage has been less than impartial.

Perhaps that’s what touched a nerve with Boulton, though I personally have found Nick Robinson’s punditry more and more intriguing during the election. Campbell was again present in a live round table – with David Steel, Huw Edwards and Andrew Adonis – responding to the news of Brown’s resignation hit the airwaves today and, again, seemed to fluster Robinson.

So, what is it? The media suddenly angry that their previously-unchallenged position as interlocutors is threatened by social media and pressure groups? Or the cracks showing in the political dead bat of political correspondents as the situation becomes more volatile? Or is it evidence that some in the broadcast media, Sky specifically, are testing the waters of the UK’s objectivity rules, perhaps in preparation for a more Fox News-like controversial stance on politics?

I’m not sure. I do sense that Sky may attempt a more entertainment-news approach in the future that may test the barriers of what Ofcom deems acceptable. And I do sense that a few correspondents, Boulton most obviously, have found it hard to disguise their true feelings.

But I suspect it’s more a case of political correspondents finding it tough to keep up with the twists and turns of a genuinely incredible campaign, and trying to keep pace with social media, in tandem with the demands of 24-hour rolling news.

So, Sky cracks first. And maybe there’s not a grand conspiracy to get Cameron into Number 10, maybe it’s just a case of folding under the pressure. Boulon certainly seems to be feeling it at the moment

Apart from the shrieking Burley. I think, more prosaically, she’s a fool.

NB. Seems Boulton nearly lost it again with Ben Bradshaw

EDITED TO ADD:

Journalism.co.uk has a good account of Campbell’s run-in with Boulton, which makes the Sky correspondent’s behaviour seem even more bizarre. This bit is particularly good:

ADAM BOULTON:
Why hasn’t he had a Cabinet meeting before making this offer?
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
He is about to have a Cabinet meeting now.
ADAM BOULTON:
Yes, but now he has made the offer, what can the Cabinet do, why haven’t you had a meeting with the parliamentary Labour party like the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have had?
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
He’s having one tomorrow, he’s having one tomorrow.
JEREMY THOMPSON:
Gentlemen, gentlemen.
ADAM BOULTON:
In other words it’s you, totally unelected have plotted this with …
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Me?
ADAM BOULTON:
Yes. You are happiest speaking about him …
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
That’s because the Ministers are going to a Cabinet meeting …
ADAM BOULTON:
He has got a parliamentary party, you’re the one that cooked it up, you’re the one that’s cooked it up with Peter Mandelson.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Oh my God, unbelievable. Adam, calm down.
JEREMY THOMPSON:
Gentlemen, gentlemen, let this debate carry on later. Let’s just remind you that Gordon Brown said a few minutes ago…
ADAM BOULTON:
I actually care about this country.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
You think I don’t care about it, you think I don’t care about it.
ADAM BOULTON:
I don’t think the evidence is there.

Campbell’s predictably amusing response, later posted on his blog:

Adam gets very touchy at any suggestion that he is anything other than an independent, hugely respected, totally impartial and very important journalist whose personal views never see the light of day, and who works for an organisation that is a superior form of public service than anything the BBC can deliver.

Underneath the Hung Parliament

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Inside Downing Street, Gordon Brown broke off a piece of Milky Bar and chewed on it thoughtfully.

Fiddling with a pair of cuff-links gifted to him by Bill Bailey, the psychologically-complex PM growled as he looked at a ticker tape displaying the latest headlines.

Surrounded by his trusted lieutenants – Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, Neil Kinnock, David Tennant and his loving wife Sarah – he leant back in his chair and barked an order.

“Get that cunt on the phone.”

The Labour coterie looked at one another askance. Was the genitalia in question Clegg or Cameron?

Cautiously approaching the bellicose son of a Scottish preacher, and still nursing wounds from repeated Brown-inflicted knife wounds, decked out in organic maroon cotton socks, Lord Mandelson pressed Brown for a clarification.

“Not those fucking cunts!” bellowed Brown, hurling a photocopier at a nearby teasmaid. “THE Cunt! Tony!”
 


 

Pouring a cup of organic, fairtrade green tea in his small Westminster office, Nick Clegg looked around at the unassuming, crowded room and mused on the path that brought his party to its greatest moment in decades.

Paddy said he had ‘made him proud’. Menzies Campbell had talked at length of the constitutional mechanisms that the Tories and Liberal Democrats now needed to negotiate. Charles Kennedy – always the Belch to Campbell’s Malvolio – was uncontactable, thought to be filming a political chat show pilot for Dave.

He asked his three trusted inner circle what he should do next. Huhne had been cautious, Laws had been more optimistic. Cable had talked about the ‘trust deficit’.

He could be kingmaker for a day, but at what cost? A lifetime in the political wilderness, with a Liberal Democrat party split down the middle between the Rainbows and the Orange Bookers? Daniel Radcliffe looked on nervously.

Clegg opened a tin of Fox’s biscuits, a gift from Shirley Williams, selected a double chocolate melt and announced his decision.

 


 

Lounging on a yacht belonging to Pete Waterman, two miles off the coast of Cannes, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair poured an iced Orangina into a glass gifted to him by Ban Ki-Moon, opened a copy of Heat magazine, and frowned.

His cell phone was playing a chirpy rendition of a popular track by rock band Dire Straits, the track that signalled that his long-time enemy and sometime brother-in-arms needed him.

Blair – who had been in a rock band known as The Ugly Rumours, and constantly frustrated that his project had almost been derailed by Brown, always the Macbeth to his Banquo – sighed and answered the iPhone, a gift from the Beckhams, with a flick of the thumb.

“Hello Gordon.”

 


 

Washing his hands in a small toilet in Admiralty House, David Cameron gazed out of window across St James’ Park.

Over the past 48 hours he had slept little, nibbling on Brannigans’ roasted peanuts and snatching brief moments to watch In The Night Garden with his young family. He thought back to his time at Oxford, running amok in the dormitories with his fellow Bullingdon members, young turks in the corridors of future power. Now for the reality.

His trusted advisers – the so-called Blue Tongue Brigade; George Osborne, Oliver Letwin and Michael Caine – sat downstairs, munching on chicken satay and star fruit.

Hague, sipping Volvic mineral water, had counselled caution. Coulson, aggressively chewing on a Mars Bar, had urged him to ‘smash the fucking bastards’. Grayling, picking dirt from underneath his fingernails, had mumbled something about Gary Neville. Clarke, known for his love of jazz, had merely smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes and stared at his brown suede brogues.

Straightening his blue tie, a gift from Margaret Thatcher, he moisturised his forehead with his wife’s Oil of Olay, a gift from Carol Vorderman, and cleared his throat.

He opened the door and began his walk downstairs to meet Clegg, whom Cameron regarded as an low-class oik, for the final time. From the small, unassuming toilet – Royal Doulton – towards destiny.
 


 
• Extract from Underneath the Hung Parliament by Andrew Rawnsley, as told to Robin Brown

Written by Robin Brown

May 10th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Election Day front pages: A predictable roll-call of shame

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As if there were ever any doubt. Today’s front pages from the right-wing newspapers manage to stretch credulity, taste, truth and decency.

It’s in every newspaper editor’s best interests to pick a winning candidate, to maintain the assumption that newspapers are important in deciding the outcome of elections. The option is to buck against that trend to my going off-kilter, like the Guardian this time around, or dig in with sheer bloody-mindedness, like the Daily Mirror.

As expected, there’s the usual roll call of shame from the right-wing tabloids – ranging from the sheer brass neck and wrong-headedness of the Sun’s Obama rip of Cameron to the implication on the front of the Daily Mail that not voting for David Cameron will mean people being burned to death on the streets of the UK.

The Sun’s is by far the most noteworthy, because whoever greenlit that one – presumably bizarre/Bizarre man Dominic Mohan, currently, baffling the editor – has got it so wrong it beggars belief.

Why? Because very few Sun readers will get the reference. Because even the staunchest Tory will not believe the an ideology-free zone like Cameron will really bring anything new to the table. Because the whole thing is an insult to politics, to design, to typography, to paper. It’s truly abysmal.

I expected a typical Sun piece of crap, like Brown’s face in a haggis and GORDON CLOWN wirtten across the top. The sort of childish rubbish we’re apparently all expected to think is hilarious. But the Sun wrongfooted me, by being even worse.

The Mail’s is more insidious, and says much more about the paper’s relationship with its readership. There’s a clear insinuation that unless Cameron gets a strong enough mandate and starts cutting the deficit we’ll all be going to Hell in a handbasket, which uses a picture of someone actually on fire to try and frighten people into following its line. Which pretty much sums up the Mail.

The Express is more prosaic, ramming its message into the sheep-like minds of its readers. Vote Cameron, Brown a disaster, hung parliament a disaster. It’s only a surprise there’s no mention of cancer or Diana in there somewhere. It can barely be thought of as a newspaper any more.

The Telegraph dutifully falls into line with the Tory ‘hope over fear’ nonsense.

The Times is, on the face of it, restrained. There’s even quite a good cartoon, and the whole thing smacks of gravitas. But we all know that the editorial line of the Times is fatally compromised.

The truth is, they’re all compromised. By the lines forced on them by proprietors, by the need to pander to readerships, by the need to achieve a pay-off on back-room deals with media moguls.

This election has been the worst I can remember as far as the right-wing press goes, through their naked partisanship and by neglecting their greater roles as educators and informers.

Things have come to such a head that popular protests against the press were held a week ago. Laura Oliver, on Journalism.co.uk argues that new media may need to fill the objective void left by a partisan media.

The Guardian and Indie have chosen a meek ‘need for PR’ line, which will probably serve well to split the vote. Only the Mirror has come out with any fire in its belly, with a picture of Cameron in his Bullingdon attire.

I think it’s a powerful front page, and there will be some interesting discussions as to where the rights to that image may lie in the future – public domain, public interest? – but it’s still the old tribal drum-beat.

I suppose that an editorial line borne of ideology isn’t really as offensive as one for naked commercial gain, but looking at the selection of paper this morning I just felt depressed.

Depressed that it’s come to this; depressed for the parlous state of journalism in the UK; depressed at the hate and fear-mongering.

The 2010 general election: A willfully stupid, mendacious and depressing election.

Wot will win the 2010 election?

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There’s been something awful about this election, beyond the stuff that’s usually awful about elections.

Alongside how utterly hopeless the media at large have been in actually reporting the issues – as opposed to some things David Cameron has said, some suits Nick Clegg has worn and some mistakes Gordon Brown has made – there’s been the most naked display of vested interests for nearly 20 years.

The likes of The Mail and The Express adopt frothingly bigoted political lines because it’s what helps them sell papers, and it reflects the unpleasant ideologies of their respective owners.

The Torygraph backs the Conservatives because it’s read mainly by retired Brigadiers who remember the Boer War. The Star… well, who gives a flying one what the Star thinks eh?

As for The Sun and The Times, well, they back whoever proprietor Rupert Murdoch tells them to back, based on various deals with whichever party he reckons will win the election and deliver the goods.

This time around it’s barely even a secret that Murdoch, or rather his son James, wants to open a new front against the BBC, and has promised David Cameron his backing in exchange for crippling the Beeb.

The Sun always makes a big deal of wanting to look like its support is the deciding factor in an election campaign, but in reality Murdoch backs whoever he calculates is most likely to win.

In years gone by, back to 1997 and throughout the 80s, this was fairly easy to predict. The only recent blip was 1992, where the Sun pulled out all of the stops to virtually suggest that Neil Kinnock was insane.

‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It,’ gloated the Scum, so we know who to thanks for the following five years of the dross from John Major’s crumbling government.

’92 is an election regularly debated by students of psephology – a smart word for voting behaviour – because all the polls suggested that Labour would win. Could it have been the rabidly hostile Tory press than won it for Major? Tough to say, but I’ve never been in doubt as to the potential power of the media in politics.

One need only look at the last 18 months of absolute slating Gordon Brown – like Major, a decent man – has endured from the Sun, Mail and Telegraph; the results of which are that most people in the country now despise him without actually knowing why.

Anyway, 2010 should provide another clue as to the power of the media in elections because, having backed Cameron, the Murdoch press now faces the possibility of their man not actually winning. What will that do for the Sun’s habit of picking a winner? Or Murdoch’s latest ambitions?

The palpable desperation emanating from the front pages of the Sun recently has been almost pitiful, culminating in today’s risible front cover where Simon F’in Cowell appears to give his support to Cameron.

Delve inside the paper (if you can bear to) and you’ll find article after article telling us how much Sun readers love Cameron, and how a hung parliament will mean that Britain will fall into a volcano. Except, that’s not what Sun readers voting in polls on the online version have been saying.

Malcolm Coles has shown as much with some number-crunching on Sun polls, which show that its readers believe that Clegg won the third debate; Sun readers aren’t fussed about a hung parliament; and that a poll apparently showing Mums to be swinging behind Cameron shows nothing of the sort.

The Sun has gone into Cameron overdrive, barely stopping short of suggesting that WebCameron’s cock is bigger than Brown’s and Clegg’s put together, and offering a kind of non-stop tabloid blowjob to the Photoshopped Tory leader.

The rise of Clegg has also sent shivers down the spine at News International, so a full-scale assault was subsequently launched on the Lib Dems.

Unlike the US, where Fox News is basically a propaganda arm for the lunatic US right wing, the UK broadcast media is bound by strict rules of impartiality. Bad news for Murdoch Junior, who wants to extend Sky into a kind of Death Star of the media.

But this election campaign has brought the first whispers that Sky’s news coverage has not appeared to be quite as straight down the line as it should. And David Cameron has appeared to suggest that broadcasting regulations may need an overhaul. What can it all mean?

People have told me that Murdoch Senior is actually fairly left-of-centre, as far as his personal politics are concerned. What’s more he’s fairly friendly with Brown, and hit it off big style with Tony.

But Murdoch doesn’t let politics get in the way of business, and having been persuaded by son James to back Cameron, has had to throw the combined News International weight behind Cameron and the Tories.

What will happen? For the first time since 1992 I have no idea, as far as the election goes. As for the press, it’s been fascinating to see the Sun frantically attempting to shore up its man, knowing that its reputation is at stake. Indeed, the FT suggests that the Sun’s backing for Cameron has had the opposite effect.

A defeat for Cameron may mean that the rise of multimedia and the web has neutered the power of the papers in this regard, and with it the power of print media barons.

A win could open up a new front in partisan media, via Sky News and the humbling of the BBC, because Murdoch’s help won’t come without strings. Then, maybe, it won’t be the Sun wot wins it in the future, but the Sky.