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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Thursday, 29 April 2010


The story of Gordon Brown's political career seems to have all the makings of Greek tragedy. From Midas touch to Nemesis via vaulting ambition that overleaps itself (OK, the last bit is Shakespeare but let's not get too fussy). It also evokes the classical ingredient of pity for the man raised up and capriciously cast down by the Gods (or the Media) with the course of events determined by a seemingly trivial event the effect of which is magnified out of all proportion by a fatal character weakness. The story even has the 'there but for the Grace of God go I' aspect which is pure Aristotle. Somebody will write it one day, but I'm not sure I'll want to see it.
So what did he do wrong yesterday? I think his biggest political mistake was that he didn't shrug off the gaffe and leave the Media to make what they could of it. It was always going to be a story but by going back he gave it more legs than it otherwise might have had. What were his advisers thinking of? 
As for the substance - well, ordinary people often have poorly articulated, relatively shallow and occasionally distasteful views about political matters. No surprises there. It's difficult for the politically sophisticated to make much sense of those views or react to them in a serious way. Again no surprises.  Brown was polite, if wooden, in the face-to-face and in a private conversation said quite calmly what most of the Mediaocracy were probably thinking. I'd be more worried if he had showed any signs of populist pandering on legal immigration. But the legitimacy of representative democracy partly depends on adherence to an asymmetrical code of conduct which permits the voters (and their self-appointed media tribunes) to heap scorn on politicians for any sign of human  weakness whilst obliging the  politicians to pretend to respect the opinions of the voters - no matter how incoherent, bizarre or indeed bigoted these might be. This is the Faustian bargain and woe betide anyone who betrays the illusions that sustain it. The sin is not that Brown insulted a harmless grandmother who may or may not be a supporter of  his own party: it is that he exposed to public scrutiny one of the unpleasant truths about how democratic politics works.

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