Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘gordon brown’ tag

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.

2010 – the stupid election

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I’ve watched all of the coverage in this general election through my fingers, as the whole thing is beyond cringe-worthy.

I mean this in several ways: David Cameron’s smug face; the media annihilation of Brown; the ghastly media commentators; the desperation of the Murdoch press in making sure their man gets in; and the self-congratulatory tone of the whole thing when the media thinks it’s done something clever like catching Brown out in an off-guarded moment today where he referred to a woman as ‘bigoted’.

It’s changed the whole tone and focus of the election into even more of a menagerie than it has been previously, with the pantomime of the TV debates and the absurd merry-go-round of opinion polls and predictions and tiresome echo chamber chatter that generates heat and no light whatsoever.

In an election campaign where there’s a crippling deficit caused by a near-depression hanging over the whole business, the dominating impressions will all be Brown’s gaffe, Clegg’s ascension and celebrity endorsements.

Today has been taken up with a million tedious Twitter updates tagged with #bigotgate; multi-spectral analysis of the audio clip from Brown’s car; political correspondents’ boring takes; shit advice from PRs and crisis management wonks trying desperately to sound like they have something important to say; and pompous, nay patronising, pieces on the great unwashed of the North.

The truth is, what Gillian Duffy had to say about immigrants was ill-informed and could be judged as bigoted. Another truth is, Brown made an off-the-cuff remark in the privacy of his car. Who’d’ve thunk? Politicians, like real people, say one thing in public and another in private.

A silly thing to say then, but one which will be a defining moment of the election campaign – if we believe what the media are telling us. This is not news; it’s what the TV, papers and websites are telling us is news. I expect we’ll hear all sort of things about how this was the moment the election exploded into life now, but that’s really total bollocks.

It’s the moment the story of election has exploded into life, because the three main political parties have been playing a relatively straight bat and talking about boring things like National Insurance. The media has had little to get its teeth into, and the Murdoch media has been ignoring the Lib Dems completely.

A hung parliament has been a hard sell from the point of view of a news editor, a political correspondent or a pundit. But it doesn’t really get any better than Brown attacking an old woman, with a side serving of immigration angst.

What opinion polls should be asking people in the UK at the moment is not ‘who will you vote for?’ or ‘Will Gordon Brown be the death of us all?’ or ‘Do you like Nick Clegg’s wife?’ – it should be ‘Have you really got the first fucking idea about politics?’

Because from where I’m standing this is the stupidest election I can remember. And when you look at the blank faces; the mumbling about immigration or the need for ‘change’; the despicable ‘Broken Britain’ refrain; or the witless scorn of poor, hapless Gordon Brown for his awkwardness and gaffes, don’t blame the people. Don’t even blame the politicians. Blame the media.

We’ll always have Murdoch and his papers that swing behind whoever has thrown the old tyrant a juicier bone; we’ll always have vested interests and ideologues and iconoclasts urging us to swing one way or the other.

The real culprit is the media as a whole, an entity that has lost sight of any idea of how to report politics without some kind of populist framing device; how to inform and educate without trying to entertain; how to report politics, fundamentally.

Watching this campaign has been like watching some sort of Chris Morris work of art. 15 years after The Day Today we finally have rolling news telling us absolutely fuck all, the silly graphics and the news networks setting their own empty agendas.

It’s politics repackaged as a ghastly reality TV show, never mind for the MTV generation, this is for the BBC3 and E4 and Sky One generation. It’s the election where the news just gave up and went to watch Glee, safe in the knowledge that people aren’t really that interested in deficits anyway.

Bill Clinton had a popular slogan in the 1992 Presidential election, designed to keep the issues forefront in the minds of voters; “Its the economy, stupid!”

2010? It’s the stupid, stupid.

Written by Robin Brown

April 28th, 2010 at 10:49 pm

That TV leader debate reporting in full

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After the rollercoaster thrill ride of three men disagreeing with each other and an off-camera man occasionally shouting, I’ve compiled this exhaustive list of newspaper and website coverage taking place both during the debate and over the next 24 hours.

• Debate clearly won by Gordon Brown, David Cameron or Nick Clegg

• Tiresome analysis of clothes worn by three candidates

• Article on Richard Nixon / JFK Presidential debate

• Infographic making inexplicable use of shapes in three primary colours

• Daily Mail picture of Gordon Brown looking sweaty

• Analysis of various ‘blunders’ by three party leaders

• Composite images of three leaders with mouths open

• Tiresome ‘Have Your Say’ section with numbingly tedious and/or ill-informed user-generated content

• Hopelessly unfunny sketch by Simon Hoggart/Rod Liddle/Amanda Platell

• Shit Sun mock-up of Gordon Brown looking like Compo from Last of the Summer Wine

• Dull profile of Alistair Stewart

• Live blog from short-straw reporter in pub in Hartlepool

• Millions of links to Twitter feeds churning out pointless quotes

• C4 blog by Jon Snow’s tie on what Brown, Cameron and Clegg were drinking backstage

• Swing-o-meter-style mock-up based on how many times each man says ‘change’.

• Live panel quizzed throughout debate consisting of white-van driving racist, muesli-eating hippie and boring middle-aged woman

• Plaintive whinge from Alex Salmond, live from reactor building in Dounreay

Now with added Clegg!

It’s a week later, and I deliberately spent the night cycling, editing photos and watching cricket. Anything really to avoid the dreaded leader’s debate and the ensuing media volcanic ash torrent of drivel. If you did too, here’s what you missed.

• Lots of articles and reports about end of two-party hegemony

• Right-wing press fall in line to paint Clegg as nutter/shirker/gay/gyppo/foreigner-loving liberal who is, quite possibly, a maniac

• Some of the broadcast media inexplicably start reporting rumours they’ve heard about Nick Clegg from hostile briefings

• Someone from Keane backs Nick Clegg

• Lib Dem supporters wonder how much further ahead they’d be with Charles Kennedy

• DPS Observer interview with Vince Cable called ‘The man who would be King’, trailed with front page lead headlined ‘Cable to bring City to heel’

• Marina Hyde writes shit sketch about how she fancies Vince Cable. Called The Cable Guy.

• Sue Malone writes poisonous article about Miriam González Durántez’s wardrobe

• Scratchy radio interview with Paddy Ashdown, saying how great Clegg is, and what a bastard Tony Blair is

• The Sun mocks up a shit photo of Nick Clegg heading down a hill in a tin bath.

Written by Robin Brown

April 15th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

New forehead, new danger

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This is my entry for the David Cameron – Airbrushed for Change website, which has been busy adapting Conservative Party print and billboard ads that showed a somewhat digitally-enhanced Cameron. The spoofs picture Call-Me-Dave Cameron next to a series of doctored slogans unlikely to feature in official Tory Party ad campaigns.

A slew of spoofs have hit the web to mock Cameron and Tory party policy, though it all seems to be in good fooling. Gordon Brown certainly seemed to think so when he unexpectedly slaughtered Dave over the poster on PMQs.

Those with a spot of historical election knowledge will spot the reference in mine to Saatchi & Saatchi’s infamous Demon Eyes ad from 1997. It seemed appropriate to adapt that original Conservative attack ad in having a pop back at Dave.

Written by Robin Brown

January 15th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Learning to love Peter: Mandelson and me

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I’m fascinated by a lot of things that are, on the face of it, not especially pleasant things to be fascinated with. Nuclear power stations, Victorian industry, tinkering with oily car parts, horror films, archaeology in its many varied, dirty and predominantly boring shades and Peter Mandelson.

Most of these interests can probably be laid at the door of a creeping fustiness related to an early mid-life crisis, or a hangover from adolescence, but my thing for Mandelson goes back to when I first became interested in politics at the age of 15 or so.

Like most 15-year-olds I was a left-wing firebrand, but I mixed it with living in the post-industrial depressed Teesside town of Hartlepool and a heritage of steel-workers and coal miners to look back on. Heady stuff.

The juxtaposition of Hartlepool – a working-class town still strong aligned with the Labour Party, Daily Mirror and teenage pregnancies – with the slippery embodiment of the New Right of the Labour Party in Mandelson fascinated and appalled me.

So much so that I voted Liberal Democrat in 1997, despite being a card-carrying member of Labour. I wanted Labour to win, I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Mandelson. This is the sort of thing, presumably, that Tony Blair was referring to when he enigmatically stated some time before the election that Labour would only ‘come of age’ when it ‘learned to love Peter’.

I’ve followed Mandelson’s career since I became politically aware, but especially so since I interviewed him in 1999 for the now-defunct Liverpool Student newspaper.

The interview went badly. I was callow, blunt and probably a little combative. I suspect Mandelson was expecting a fairly friendly ride but, having been bombarded with hostile questions relating to his sacking, failed bid to get on the NEC and had some rather silly quotes dug up by me and thrown in his face, he soon bristled at the line of questioning.

A studied boredom descended over Mandy, and he appeared to take great delight in batting back my questions with deliberately facile straight-bat responses and at least one flat-out lie, though he was visibly irritated on a few occasions.

Towards the end of the interview he went out of his way to be unpleasant and unhelpful. I was a rather confused. The line of questioning was harsh, but I was cordial and even attempted a parting joke.

Looking back it’s easy to see why Peter had been irritated by my attempt at an interview. We now know that Mandelson was shattered by his sacking from the DTI, a brief he’d coveted for some time, and was licking some not-inconsiderable wounds received from Gordon Brown, Geoffrey Robinson and Tony Blair.

Blair told Mandelson following the fall-out from the home loans affair to ‘go away and make some friends in the Labour Party’. Clearly he wasn’t heeding that advice on the day I spoke to him but he does seem to have made it up, eventually, with Brown.

Peter Mandelson

Mandelson’s efficacy in his early ministerial career was tough to judge, having been too short on both occasions to make much of an impact, though I never doubted his skills as a political operator.

His most recent resurrection as Business Secretary at the BIS and de facto Deputy PM has been notable because of its soaraway success.

His record in attracting business to the British car industry, which looked in danger of collapsing completely at the start of 2009, has been a vindication of his appointment and, to my eyes, the government’s policy of ploughing serious cash into the economy.

It’s tough to judge how much government money or loan guarantees have gone to car manufacturers including Toyota, Nissan, Honda, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, but all have made significant long-term commitments to remaining in the country and producing more models in the UK, despite the fact that the UK is not necessarily the best place in Europe to build and export cars.

LDV went by the wayside, Ford is moving Transit production abroad in the future and Vauxhall’s future is still in the balance – but the automotive industry clearly sees the UK as a place to do business, and without the billions of Euros the German government has been merrily throwing around.

The UK’s scrappage scheme, for all its faults, has got the UK car industry going again and is likely to actually return a profit due to VAT receipts. Mandelson demanded the manufacturers taking part equalled the government’s investment of £1,000 per purchase, and OEMs, the supply chain, the economy and Treasury have benefited as a result.

On the Labour Party front, Mandelson has become something of a darling to a party reeling from poor polling and a hysterically hostile press.

He’s the only one who appears to be fighting for the party, he’s gained a sense of humour and people within the party are talking him as a potential next leader (though the fact he is no longer an MP could make it tricky).

It’s a fairly remarkable turnaround, and I’ve found myself begrudgingly reassessing my opinion of him. His rallying cry to the party – “If I can come back so can we” – is symptomatic of a man who appears to be the only one in the PLP who hasn’t given up the ghost. I particularly enjoyed the story that he marched up to a clique of News International types at a party and lambasted them as a ‘bunch of cunts’ following the Sun’s switch of loyalties.

Anyway here’s Mandelson, now Lord of course, revelling in his new-found popularity within the Labour Party in conversation with Andrew Rawnsley at a fringe meeting at the recent conference – showing his combative and humourous qualities.

It seems the Labour Party has come to love Peter, albeit after 15 years. And while I wouldn’t go that far, I do respect the guy and feel slightly guilty about giving him such a hard time all those years ago. Sorry Peter.

As for me, I learned a lot from our meeting. Most obviously to flatter, charm and bribe interviewees, but also that there is a game to be played in such meetings that can be more rewarding and much more enjoyable. Just watch Rawnsley.

The writing of the article, and some ruthless self-inflicted subbing that followed, also taught me a lot. The material I had to work with was barely useable but I built something useful out of it.

A journo on a national praised it as ‘masterful’, I received several hearty slaps on the back and a photostat adorned the wall of the downstairs toilet of the family home in Hartlepool for several years.

Paired with a superb cartoon by the brilliant Nick Watson it also looked the part. Arguably the interview and subsequent article were the catalysts that convinced me that I could make a career as a journalist.

I didn’t pursue politics in the end, but I kept an eye on Mandy’s progress. The irony of being employed to write about Mandelson in the car industry years later is not lost on me. Nor is the fact that if weren’t for that meeting ten years ago, it seems unlikely I’d be where I am now.

• My original interview with Mandelson is reprinted below

Learning to love Peter

There’s a story about Peter Mandelson in Hartlepool that everyone knows. It goes like this: The young moustachioed Peter is on one of his first strolls around the constituency with the media in tow. Spotting a fish and chip shop he ventures in and orders a large cod and chips. Spotting a bowl of green gunky stuff he then orders some guacamole. It is, of course, mushy peas.

Regardless of whether this happened, the story will follow Mandelson to his grave, along with the stories about that loan from Geoffrey. Word was that Peter had to go because it gave the excuse that John and Gordon needed to scupper him. Apparently Tony sees Peter as the next leader.

So what has Peter been doing these last six or seven months? “Is this the interview?” It is. A ‘well in that case’ look plays across his face. He’s been serving his constituents, and in many ways it’s as rewarding as being a cabinet minister (lucky for him).

So did he expect to be promoted in the reshuffle? No. Was he disappointed that he wasn’t? No. Another couple of questions in the same vein are met with the response: “That is not a matter for me but for the Prime Minister.” I half expect his to start inspecting his fingernails in studied boredom.

I had been keeping my next question for a more opportune moment, but anything which injects something into the proceedings as this point is welcome. I go for the jugular.

“Given that you ran for the NEC but you didn’t make it …”

“I was runner-up, though”

“While people like Ken Livingstone and Mark Seddon – left-wingers with a media profile not as high as yourself – did get elected. What do you think that says about Labour party membership?”

“What it says about Labour party membership is that you have to run for the NEC a few times before you get elected and they had and the voting membership in London is about the size of the rest of the country put together. If you’re a Londoner, which Ken Livingstone is and Mark Seddon is to all intents and purpose, then you begin with a head start.

Now, something about this strikes me as a little, well, false. For a start, what is Mandelson if not a Londoner to all intent and purpose? He was born there and has lived there for most of his life. Additionally, it is plainly not just Londoners who get elected to the NEC

It should be remembered that while he has undoubtedly achieved a lot over the years Mandelson has also had several noted failures. As Director of Communications he took Labour to two General Election defeats.

In 1997 Labour gained one per cent per cent more of the vote than the Tories did in 1992 – Mandelson did not win Labour the election, as is commonly said, the Tories did. On top of the NEC failure there’s the Millennium Dome fiasco and then the loan story.

“The fact is that I was the runner-up”, he repeats, perhaps a little plaintively. Runner-up eh?

To someone who didn’t know better it might suggest that Labour party membership does not favour the type of policies espoused by Mandelson, or indeed the man himself. The rebuke they delivered to Mandelson may have hurt the man as much as it delighted bearded lefties up and down the country.

I go for my star question.

“I’ve got a quote here which is attributed to you: ‘Labour is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.’ Given that unemployment in Hartlepool is 13%…”

I don’t get any further.

“Where did you find that quote?”

Oh dear. “I read it in Red Pepper.”

Red Pepper is a left-wing magazine that is a little off-message. People like Noam Chomsky, Mike Mansfield QC and John Pilger write for it.

“Next Question.” I don’t say anything.

“I’m not going to comment on a quote just flung out by a hard-left magazine with a mighty great axe to grind like Red Pepper.”

“You didn’t say that then?”

“No. Next question.”

Now, I’m not going to let this slip as easily as I did at the time – he only denied it when I pushed him. Red Pepper would be liable for litigation if they couldn’t back that quote up – not something a small, independent magazine would risk. In fact, the writer assures me the quote came from a piece in The Guardian (24 December 1998).

Assuming that Mandelson did say that, it would be highly insensitive of an MP to come out with that when he represents a depressed post-industrial town. However it is a phrase that seems to say a lot about his political philosophy. His White Paper, while at the DTI, was ‘the most business-friendly document any Labour government has ever produced,’ he said in the Daily Telegraph. ‘Labour has dumped its interventionist past.’ Perhaps they are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich too.

“What do you think Labour has achieved in office?” This was meant to lead into another question, but he’s off.

Investment in schools, healthy, child benefit, minimum wage and so on. It seems a little rude to interrupt him when he’s eulogising so beautifully. But I do anyway.

“But some would say that waiting lists aren’t dropping as quickly as they are supposed to have by now …”

“No..but then that’s hardly surprising following 18 years of mismanagement of the NHS.”

Exasperated I change tack, I ask about the Mandelson/media relationship. They seem to me to have a very pronounced fascination with each other to me: I’ve read articles about Mandelson’s homosexuality, anti-semitism concerning his Jewish heritage, his aesthetic sensibilities (or lack of), his naivety over the whole ‘home-loan’ saga, his bedazzlement with the rich and famous, his friendship with several noted media whores. The media are completely entranced by him. And Mandelson’s downfall was met with the sound of a thousand copy-fillers cracking their fingers in delighted anticipation.

“Did you feel that you were hounded out of office by the media?”

“No”. Another blank look.

“I stand up for what I believe in, and that’s what politicians should do. I stand up for the party, against our detractors and those who would do us harm. Of course that’s brought me on to a collision course with some in the media, but they’ve got one political aim in mind and that’s to stop the Labour government being elected.”

“Why do you think the media are so fascinated with you?”

“I have no idea. I’m not interested. What I’m interested in is what I can do to help the Labour government.”

One last attempt …

“Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?”

“I see myself as MP for Hartlepool.”

“Not as a Cabinet Minister?”

“No. I don’t see myself in that sense at all. That is a matter for the Prime Minister.”

Foiled again. Time for one last question.

“There’s a rather entertaining story in Hartlepool about you. Apparently when you were out canvassing you went into a fish and chip shop…”

“It’s a myth.” He cuts in. It’s meant to end the interview on a light and amiable note. It fails, spectacularly badly.

“Can I take some photos?”

“No.”

“Well, thanks for talking to me. Good luck for the future.”

Mandelson fixes me with a peculiar look.

“Yep. See ya.” It was the way he said it, maybe you had to be there.

I’d put money on Mandelson being a Minister again by the end of the year. He’s too important to Blair and The Project to be cast aside to live out the rest of his political career in Hartlepool – something he hasn’t considered for a second, I’m sure.

The man inspires such polarity of emotions because he embodies so perfectly the rebirth of the Labour party. About the same time as Labour abandoned the Red Flag he shaved his ‘tache off – how symbolic can you get? Blair is the figurehead of new Labour but it would never have got off the ground without the man Mandy.

That testament to the gloss of New Labour – the Millenium Dome – is his brainchild, his tenure at the DTI represents everything New Labour thinks about business – it must be appeased. He is New Labour.

His downfall was a result of his desire to live like so many of his friends do – he hobnobs with the rich and famous, but he is only one half of the equation himself – too famous and not rich enough by half to mix it with the Big Boys, maybe that’s an apt analogy for New Labour too.

A lot of people hate Peter Mandelson. A lot of people like him a lot – luckily the Prime Minister is one of them.

“Labour will only come of age when it learns to love Peters” says Tony Blair. I’ve no idea what that means and I’m not sure that Tony Blair does. I’d ask the man himself but even if he knew I’m sure he wouldn’t tell me. After all, that would be a matter for the Prime Minister …

• Mandelson image by World Economic Forum via Creative Commons

Written by Robin Brown

October 12th, 2009 at 6:52 pm