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Serious Politics 1 Low Journalism 0

Posted on 27 September 2009 | 11:09am

Gordon Brown did well on the Andrew Marr programme this morning, in difficult circumstances. He was at his best when showing the kind of fighting spirit that Labour supporters hope will define the week ahead.

He had something serious and substantial to say about government action to deal with the banking bonus culture. He was strong when reminding people of the role he played in stabilising the world economy amid the shocks of a year ago, and let us hope Marr asks a few serious questions of Dave next week, how his laissez-faire approach to the financial crisis might have played out, and when the gaps in his policy platform may start to be filled. Alas, with the media as it currently is, I fear I hope in vain. Brown a loser, Dave a winner, it sets the context for virtually all political coverage these days.

But Gordon was able to link the personal strengths he had shown in overcoming setbacks in his private life to the political strengths he has shown in dealing with difficult challenges. Even his biggest detractors would be hard pressed to say this was a man without an agenda, and a determination to see it through. He was good too when showing he was not prepared to let myths settle, for example about the level of UK debt relative to other major economies.

I saw a wonderful email recently on what John Cleese called ‘the vulgarization of the BBC’, (story too long and complicated to explain here) and it was sad to see Marr, perhaps with an eye to a few Monday morning cuttings, feel that he had to raise blogosphere rumours about Gordon going blind, or being on heavy medication of some sort.

I know it will give him the passing satisfaction of pats on the back from journos whose backs he pats when they come on to do their ‘excellent, as ever’ reviews of the papers. But it was low stuff. I’m sure Andrew would agree that everyone has certain areas of their life that they’d prefer not to be asked about live on TV.

I don’t know what the viewing figures for his programme are, but far more people will read about it and hear about it from others than see the whole thing. Which is a pity. Because from GB’s perspective, even with the unpleasantness at the end, it was fine. But by the time the rest of the media have finished with it, it will doubtless be a messy mix of sweat, polls, medical myths, Tongan illegal immigrants and a re-run of anything in the Sundays deemed bad for Labour.

However, if everyone shows that determination to fight back against the negativity, fight back against the media’s self-serving assumptions about where public opinion lies, and fight to get over the reality of the choice with the Tories, it could still be a decent few days.

  • Patsy Kay

    So agree about the way journalists talk to each other. Like a big club where everyone is clever and knows everything and never gets challenged on what they say. It is an abuse of power every bit on a par with the trade unions in the past.

  • Helene Pearson

    I only saw second half of interview and thought Brown did ok. I was really surprised at Andrew Marr asking about rumours on his health as I was unaware of the rumours, so in a way all he was doing was spreading rumours. But I was quite moved by the answer.

  • Charlie MArsh

    I have never understood why, when ‘don;’t believe everything you read in the papers’ is one of life’s best known sayings, the TV and radio spent so much time talking about what’s in them. I don’t watch MArr for that reason, I got fed up of all the paper talk. I will watch the interview on iplayer

  • Pall Mall

    He will need more than a bit of fight to get back from where he is

  • Zelo Street

    Certainly past interviewers would never have challenged Harold Wilson on his fondness for brandy, nor Margaret Thatcher on hers for whisky, but we live in a gradually less deferential media world.

    I have no problem with Andy Marr asking the questions he did, provided he takes an even handed approach, and therefore have every confidence that he will put Young Dave on the spot next weekend as to whether he still has a friend called Charlie.

  • Bob Wiggin

    While I was impressed with Gordon Brown’s performance on the Andrew Marr show this morning I was disappointed that Andrew Marr didn’t take him to task on his plan to include in primary legislation the exemption of the monarchy from the public interest test of the Freedom of Information Act. If Gordon Brown is serious about public institutions being accountable then why not the monarchy?
    The exemption of monarchy from FOI is profoundly undemocratic. It goes way beyond the private (secret) discussions between PM and head of state and is to include the entire royal household on all sorts of matters. It won’t be long before the exemption is absolute. You can not protect the impartiality of a public office through secrecy. Secrecy only allows partiality to be practiced away from public scrutiny. Impartiality, if constitutionally required, must be proven and seen to be done. I’m not suggesting that all government business should be done in the open, but let’s take for example the weekly meetings between Gordon Brown and the Queen. These are not minuted and no-one but Gordon Brown and the Queen are present. Gordon Brown cannot do this with anyone else, meetings must be minuted and recorded. While there should be a degree of confidentiality, there is no reason why we cannot know what issues were discussed. And if there is reason to believe serious matters of state were influenced by those discussions then there must be a public interest test that could potentially allow the release of the minutes of those meetings. If it is in the public interest for the Queen to be impartial, then it is in the public interest for us to make sure that she is. The exemption also covers Charles and his charities. Charles is constitutionally bound to be impartial, yet he persistently fails on that score. Unfortunately Gordon Brown appears to believe that it is not in the public interest to reveal the extent of Charles’ political lobbying as it would undermine his impartiality.

  • Brian Hughes

    I’m just coming to the end of the second of Dominic Sandbrook’s entertaining books about the history of Britain in the 1960s. Highly recommended even though remembering “history” so vividly oneself is another sign of time’s relentless passage.

    Anyway he reminds us that in the run up to the 1970 election the clever souls in the media had written off the uncharismatic Heath as a certain looser. Even before the polls opened, one smart Sunday columnist had apparently already filed their piece explaining why he’d failed.

    But he didn’t fail; that was the year a man had to come onto the BBC’s live election night set to paint some extra segments onto the Tory side of their “swingometer” (ah what laughably low-tech days those now seem!).

    It ain’t over ’til it’s over….

  • Catriona Smith

    The media are setting the agenda in this country, of that there is no doubt.
    How would it be if the PM stopped giving interviews at all and just got on with the job? I mean, right to the election. No GMTV, no Andrew Marr etc etc. No more sooking up to these sneering folk who have made up their minds already.
    He shouldn’t have to be hassling with this negative rubbish every single day, when he has the country to run. His Cabinet (where are they?) should be on the front line, finding out the Tories plans for each Govt Dept and going for then all guns blazing, putting them on the spot! Then nearer the election GB could take part in a public debate with the main parties.

  • olli issakainen

    What´s going on? After a nice morning walk I started my Sunday routine of printing Labour-related articles from the websites of British quality newspapers and at the same time watching Sunday Live on Sky News. Labour `has lost will to live´ (AD) – `I will work for Tories´ (PM) – etc.
    Well, it was suggested on Sky that Chancellor´s comments were not to be seen as an attack on GB but as a part of some sort of an orchestrated operation.
    Unfortunately Andrew Marr´s tv show is not anymore available on iPlayer for Finnish audience, but I saw a clip of it on Sky. GB´s response concerning set-backs was great.

  • Huw Spanner

    When we interviewed Andrew Marr for Third Way magazine many years ago, he wrote afterwards to thank us for our “meticulous fairness”. I’ve always admired him, and will be very disappointed if he doesn’t show the same meticulous fairness in his treatment of Cameron as against Brown.

    The longer I spend on the margins of the British media, the more I think they stink. I expect better of someone such as Marr, but maybe I am being naive.

    However, I am puzzled and horrified that after all these years the fortunes of the Labour government seem to depend so much on one man. Tony Blair was always surrounded by a lot of heavy hitters, both politicians and advisers. Why is Gordon so isolated? Is it his fault, or a lack of talent in the party? Either way, it is a serious weakness, and a major factor in what is going on.

    The real test of politicians, it seems to me – of whether they are in it for themselves or for the public good – is whether they persevere even when things look hopeless. When I hear that many Labour MPs and ministers are getting defeatist and thinking about what they are going to do when they have lost the next election, it makes me angry. For them it might be just a change of career, but it is us who are going to have to live under the bloody Tories if they get back in! It’s our future Labour politicians should be concerned about and fighting for, not their own. I think Gordon’s heart is in the right place in that respect – and I note that John Prescott’s is, too. Good for them – and you, Alastair.

  • His Eminence

    When Marr and his wife have both given up on Brown – you know the games up.

  • Sarah Plunkett

    Great blog to the AM show interview with GB. Totally agree with all the points made. I’m another one who getting totally fed-up with the media’s self-interest and now asking the questions which demand answers which will ultimately help the wider public. Health questions on this morning’s show were definately a low point and GB dealt with them. Lets hope Dave gets the same treatment next week.

  • Jane

    I thought it was inappropriate and offensive to ask the PM a question about drugs. I was aware of the rumours on various blogs alleging he was suffering from OCD and Severe Depression and prescribed (MAOI) anti depressants.

    I do not warm to GB nor his close associates Ed Balls etc but feel that GB’s health is personal to him. I do wonder why the question was asked. I can only assume that Andrew Marr feels the need to prove to many of his journalist colleagues that he does not give senior politicians an easy ride on his show. Andrew comes in for a lot of criticism in this regard.

    I hate listening to the PM relating the events he has overcome in his life as somehow being important in giving him strength now. None of us come through life without personal scars and we are all shaped by past events. GB is no different and I somehow think this is a strategy developed by his aides to improve his image and make him more human. He is always excellent when talking about the economy as it is his field of expertise.

    I do not watch political programmes live. I read the transcript of Anrew Marr’s programme and then watch it on my computer if I am interested.

    By the way, I quite like David Cameron – he seems to be in touch with the mood of the country and he does answer questions. Yes he is media friendly – so was my hero TB. Like one of his professors at university – I consider him to have many skills not just PR. He would never get my vote but sadly those of my friends who voted for TB will be voting for DC at the next election. It seems GB has lost their votes……..

  • Andy

    I thought Andrew Marr was a total disgrace this morning. To ask someone, based on internet rumours about their private medical details is truely shameful. He wouldn’t dare ask about the various internet rumours surrounding David Cameron & George Osborne.So why does he think it’s OK to ask Gordon Brown?

  • Em

    The media are getting their ideas from Doctor Who!

    In an episode, David Tennant wants a contemporary British PM to fall so he asks one of PM’s aides why the PM looks so tired. The idea is that the mere intimation that her health is at issue will inevitably end her career.

    How long can the media go?

  • Charlie Reynolds

    Isn’t Mrs Marr – Jackie Ashley? Wasn’t this just a set up opportunity for the prime minister to rebut these points which are being printed in papers as well as on the internet. I think these sort of attacks on Gordon Brown will help him more than harm him. Every time I hear an interview with George Osborne he is treated with no respect whatsoever. The net result has been that I have listened to him intently and found myself liking him more for it. The more Gordon comes under atack in interviews the better for him I reckon.

    It’s when Gordon starts talking about the economy that he starts to seem less sincere. We are not stupid. We know the debt level is high and going to get worse. We also know that he is going to cut spending and that any new government will have to do so.

    We also remember he got rid of the 10p rate of tax in his last budget making many of us who are struggling to pay our bills worse off, while those on higher incomes were better off! I DO NOT BELIEVE that Gordon Brown REALLY cares about people on low incomes. The evidence is there for all to see. Not theory or principle but what he actually did.

    Why did he not save more during the time when tax receipts were higher? I am very worried about the future of this country. The net result of this government’s financial incompetence will ensure our standards of living fall and that so many people at the poorer end of our society will suffer. I will not be blaming David Cameron. It will be Gordon Brown and Labour who I blame for this. I am even starting to reappraise what Thatcher did in the early 80s (Jeez!). She was left a dire set of economic circumstances too. The idea that it can just be left and all will be ok in the end does not add up. The consequences of not dealing with the debt are far worse than the consequences of dealing with it asap. That is the sad reality.

    Brown is not being attacked because of who he is but because of what he has done. His colleagues have given up defending the indefensible. He needs to cut the crap in his conference speech and let’s see a more genuine and humble man.

  • Alan Quinn

    I’ve just watched the interview with Gordon again and he performed well, he answered all the questios directly but Marr’s question re GB’s health was gutter journalism. I wait with baited breath whether or not Cameron will get the same treatment or whether the BBC will continue its love in with Dave and Gorgeous George.

  • RGA

    I am in two minds about the “health issues” issue, as it were – I think in some ways GB is in a strange position. After all, if he were in another position of significant public responsibility, such as being a pilot of a passenger jet, we would all expect him to be in tip-top condition all of the time, albeit that we would rely on the airline to conduct medicals, drug tests, etc so we were sure he was fit to fly. But here we are with no independent judge monitoring the Prime Minister’s health, and some pretty serious claims going around not just the Westminster village and the Internet – as if that would somehow make them less serious, even if more obscure – but leaking into the public prints and the public consciousness.

    It is right for journalists to ask questions, and sometimes awkward questions, on the public’s behalf – in a way, Andrew Marr may have done GB a great favour in at least airing the thing and letting the PM stamp on the rumours.

    On the other hand, it did seem rather awkward and squirm-making. I felt embarrassed for both men – both interviewer and interviewee – during the “medical” Q&A, and that, I suppose, betrays the fact that part of me disapproves.

  • Simon Gittins

    Why do you think there appears to be so much negativity in the press regarding this government ?
    I’d suggest it’s because they are reflecting public opinion. You really don’t seem to get it do you ? the overwhelming majority have had enough of 12 years of incompetence, deceit, interference, broken promises and a refusal to listen.
    Yet the Labour hierarchy is still refusing to listen, preferring to blame anyone and everyone for their current predicament.
    You are so out of touch it really is quite astonishing. You may of gauged and correctly reflected the mood of the country 13 years ago, you sure as hell don’t now.

  • Nick

    The problem with Marr’s question was that Brown didn’t answer it.

    No one cares if Brown is partially sighted. It doesn’t affect his work.

    However, if he is on antidepressants, it does matter. If affects his behaviour.

    Brown didn’t answer the question, instead turning it to a question about his eyesight.

    Ommission is a form of lying


  • John

    “everyone has certain areas of their life that they’d prefer not to be asked about live on TV”

    Astonishing stuff, Mr Campbell!

    You should remind yourself that nobody has forced Brown to be PM (in fact, no-one has even VOTED for him, and I dare say the overwhelming majority of people would rather he found something else to do entirely).

    There is a perfectly straightforward way for Brown to avoid his fitness for the job being open to question and to keep his health private.

    But until he does vacate the position however, and while our young men continue to be sent overseas to die for a cause that no-one has explained to us at all, most sane people would prefer to have the small luxury of being able to check whether their PM is of sound mind.

  • startledcod

    Funny, i watched the whole interview and didn’t se it the way you did.

    More importantly – Come on you Spurs!

  • Chris Phillips

    Is this the same Alastair Campbell who once described Gordon Brown as “pyschologically flawed”?

    Ironic, really, that this may be the one truth that Campbell’s ever uttered.

  • guido.fawkes

    Remind me again who it was who first briefed that Gordon was “psychologically flawed”?

  • mustafa Mitib

    I though Gordon did really well. I do hope that Andrew Marr asks David Cameron questions that are just ask serious and difficult if not more. The leader of the opposition should get asked harder questions not easier ones, in order of him to try and prove that he is somehow capable of running the country and not just a random alternative to the Prime Minister.

    You could see Gordon wasn’t too comfortable with the issue surrounding his sight and i think that its unfair for people to bring up the issue and suggesting that he should step down over health issues. So what if he’s blind in one eye or even both eyes, you can still do the job and i think he’s done tremendously well to come this far and to do so much with sight in just one eye. Charles Clark is causing more harm then good to the Labour Party.

    And by the way, it looks like you were right on Angela Merkel winning the German elections, lets hope that your prediction that labour will win a 4th term is correct as well.

  • Frank Nelson

    The right will always fight dirtier than the left. Their is a nstiness in their DNA that is part of what makes them right-wing. I was hugely disappointed that Marr, for the sake of a cheap thrill for the benefit of his colleagues, stooped as low as he did

  • Jane A

    I find it disgraceful that GB should be quizzed on his health status on tv. But you know, if he is or was, depressed, why shouldn’t be take antidepressants to deal with that? Anyone with a health condition which can be remediated by medication has that option, and it is discrimatory to suggest that his judgment would be impaired simply because this is a (hyperthetical) question about mental health rather than physical health.

  • Michael

    Et tu Andrew, eh? I do think this blog is beggining to resemble Michael Palin’s efforts in the famous sketch about the Dead Parrot. A half empty conference, a ballooning public debt – Labour is knackered. And I’m no Tory either – but I’ll probably vote for them for the first time since 1992 next time round. Can’t be any worse than this abject crew at the helm