Prime Ministers Are Prey to Delusion. I Am Filled with Apprehension for Mr Brown ; COMMENT & DEBATE

By Watkins, Alan | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), January 21, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Prime Ministers Are Prey to Delusion. I Am Filled with Apprehension for Mr Brown ; COMMENT & DEBATE

Watkins, Alan, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)

One of my colleagues has written that Mr Gordon Brown and his visit to India were driven off the front pages by the row about Big Brother. This seems to me the direct opposite of what occurred. Indeed, is still going on. So far from being upstaged by Ms Jade Goody and her playground pals, the Chancellor has become part of the act.

Mr Brown has won admiring opinions for a couple of sentences of conventional political piety. He has proved himself even more adept with the quick all-purpose quote than Mr Tony Blair. I sometimes think we Welsh are the only surviving unprotected species in western Europe, not to mention the United States, and long may that state of outlawry continue.

Whatever the merits of the business may be, it was Ms Goody who put Mr Brown at the top of the news bulletins, not the expansion of higher education in the Indian sub-continent or the increase of the gross domestic product.

Mr Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, always reminds me of a sharp radio comedian from a bygone, more purely verbal, era, an impression which is wholly in his favour. But even he, who is not devoid of a sense of humour - quite the reverse, I should have thought - seemed to think it bizarre to find himself broadcasting from India about a debased television programme from London.

Quite who is to accompany a senior politician on one of his (or her) frequent trips abroad is among the byways of modern journalism. The Prime Minister has for some years now (at least since the days of Harold Macmillan, I estimate) taken the lobby correspondents with him, the "political editors" as they are now called. Political editors, who rarely edited anything, were transformed from the more accurately named political correspondents in order to escape one of Edward Heath's pay policies and accordingly to be paid slightly more money. Other specialist correspondents were given similar dignity, from the same financial motive. But this is by the way. As I say, political editors have a monopoly of the Prime Minister, just as the Prime Minister has a monopoly of them. Seats are - or, at all events, used to be - offered at cut-price rates on the Downing Street aeroplane, so saving the newspapers money, though not very much of it.

Chancellors of the Exchequer customarily have been less adventurous in their travelling plans. After all, the more glamorous functions of the Foreign Secretary have steadily been eliminated in favour of the primacy of the first Lord of the Treasury. The Chancellor has to stay at home. Indeed, he ought to stay at home.

In Henry James's short story "The Lesson of the Master" an established author is giving some advice to his younger disciple: "That takes off a little of my esteem for this thing of yours - that it goes on abroad. Hang 'abroad'! Stay at home and do things here - do subjects we can measure."

For some months now, Mr Brown has shown signs of wanting to visit faraway places with strange-sounding names. As a virtual certainty to go on to No 10, he is now accompanied by the BBC's political editor. True, The Guardian's man on the spot is that paper's economics editor, Mr Larry Elliott. So the en-search tourage is divided between political editors, as they are now called, and other editors, all of whose qualifications for editing are by no means self-evident, to say the least.

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Prime Ministers Are Prey to Delusion. I Am Filled with Apprehension for Mr Brown ; COMMENT & DEBATE


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