Magazine article The Spectator

I Blame Those Who Worked with Brown, Knew What He Was Really like, but Stayed Silent

Magazine article The Spectator

I Blame Those Who Worked with Brown, Knew What He Was Really like, but Stayed Silent

Article excerpt

'How the Guardianistas changed their tune, ' was the heading to a Sunday Times factbox published in the paper last weekend.

The intention was to mock those Fleet Street columnists, erstwhile fans of Gordon Brown, who have turned against their former hero.

'Only five more dreaming days until Gordon Brown's coronation, ' the famously independent-minded and fiercely left-of-centre Brown loyalist, Polly Toynbee, was quoted as having written a year ago. 'Brown's first month looks like a striking success, ' Jonathan Freedland, always a thoughtful and progressive voice, had written a month later. Hopeful, trusting voices, both.

No longer. 'On current evidence he is simply not up to the job, ' thought Mr Freedland on 18 June this year. 'It is not just Gordon Brown who looks like a dead man walking, ' remarked Ms Toynbee (13 June), 'Labour now looks like a party of zombies.' All good fun. Those who execute U-turns in British media commentary must expect the same mockery as awaits any politician who does the same, and both Toynbee and Freedland have broad enough shoulders to shrug off the abuse. Elsewhere in that newspaper Simon Jenkins widens the attack to include a range of commentators who 'were euphoric at Brown's advent a year ago', and 'now dismiss him as useless'. 'They carried him to power on a chariot of golden expectation. Now he is down in the polls they beat him senseless... It is politics as horror-movie.' It is, in short, becoming fashionable among journalists to chart -- in tones of surprise and shock -- the rapid turnaround in the Prime Minister's reputation among the media and political class.

I was rather looking forward to joining the gleeful chorus. I never did think much of Brown because whenever he spoke one had the sniff of a man of limited courage or imagination: frightened, unadventurous and a bully. What fun it will be, I thought, to point the finger tomorrow and chant 'I told you so' at those who yesterday warned us that we must 'never underestimate Gordon Brown', and praised him as an intellectual colossus, master-strategist and political titan. When the editor of this magazine seriously recommended readers to take with us the Prime Minister's book Courage, as beach-reading last summer, I made a little note in case it should prove useful in years to come.

But now colleagues are changing their opinions I simply find myself admiring their honesty. For they have done and are doing exactly what a good journalist is supposed to do: report what appears to be the case. What appears to be the case has changed. So have their reports. This is nothing but professional.

It is not given to Polly, Jonathan, Matthew or me to live cheek-by-jowl with Gordon Brown; to know him as his mother knew him; to work with him as close colleagues have; or to peer through some window into his intellect, psyche or soul. The same is true of the great majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who know their leader hardly better than you or I do, and hardly could.

Commentators, party workers, backbench MPs and political followers must rely for the most part on report.

The reports on Gordon Brown were almost universally favourable. Admittedly his occasional surliness was well-known, but those who met and talked with him generally described the then-Chancellor as a genial and clever man and pleasant conversationalist.

We cannot doubt that this is what they saw.

Added to the chattier sorts of report were those of a more serious kind: they described a formidable brain and powerhouse of ideas, a gritty and decisive politician. …

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