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Why should Brown and Cameron apologise for being seen to pay tribute to the war dead?

Posted on 22 November 2009 | 11:11am

Having taken a potshot at David Cameron for hiring a personal photographer, I suppose I ought to be pleased that this has landed him in a spot of bother.

But I’m afraid I cannot get wound up over the complaint by Westminster Abbey that Cameron and Gordon Brown had their pictures taken without permission in the Field of Remembrance on Armistice Day.

That this is a prominent story on the news this morning, complete with apologies from Downing Street and Mr Cameron himself, merely underlines the extent to which an anti-politics and anti-politician mood has taken hold.

Anyone who cares to take a whack at the politicians – in this case someone at the Abbey – will get a ready and supportive audience in large parts of the media. If they can weigh in with the charge that they are indulging in ‘a photo opportunity’, even better.

Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister at a time UK forces are engaged in war. David Cameron is the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Far from being asked to apologise, I think they are entitled to say it is entirely appropriate that they should make such visits and pay such tributes at this time of year. It is also appropriate that the public get to know about it.

And given the various parliamentary and other events to commemorate the World Wars, notably the Cenotaph ceremony, and the extent to which the issue of Afghanistan has dominated public debate of late, neither man is really in need of the additional coverage their visits to pay tribute may have yielded.

In fact there has been more coverage of them this morning already, as part of the ‘apology story’, than there was at the time. How long before it becomes ‘Poppygate’?

On the polls, and particularly the one showing the Tory lead cut to six points, they merely underline what I have been saying here for months – the Tories are not home and dry. If Labour get their act together properly – on defending the record, taking the attack to the Tories and winning arguments about the policy agenda for the future – the game is still on.

Because whilst lots of people may cite lots of reasons for not wanting another Labour term, there is no great enthusiasm for the Tories.

There is also a growing fear that beneath the surface of Cameron’s presentational skills, (without doubt better than Michael Howard’s and Iain Duncan Smith’s) his Party is fundamentally unchanged. Right-wing, out of touch with the way most people live, run by an elite, and ready to run the country for an elite.

  • wavingfree

    The Bullington Boys running the country? Not for me. BBC South Today gloating that more shadow cabinet members are from the south, more money to be spent in the south, both I suggest at the expense of the north. Wake up everybody.

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    The public may be anti-politics at the moment but they are also anti-spin.

    Many people disbelieve ANYTHING that comes from the mouth of ANY politician. Not good for a Conservative party that has yet to convey its message or general policy narrative to the public at large.

    So, yes, labour need to get their act together. But don’t make it look too good!

  • Hazico

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments today Alistair.

    I think parts of the media are just there to entertain rather than inform- politics has become trivialized.
    Much like so called reality TV and all the trivia we are fed with in glossy comics….it’s all so boring, and to my mind distracts from the real issues that the public could actually contribute towards…

    Who benefits from all this? Presumably those that are profiting financially- it’s big business I guess.And the public do love celebrity gossip- or do they?!

    I agree- the public at large need to wake up and see how they’re being manipulated!

    I think communities need to redefine their own agendas- not be led entirely by external forces in the media/internet etc.

    Watching Andrew Marr’s excellent(?) Modern History of Britain on the BBC makes me realise how much society has become individualized, and less passionate in shaping politics…we are all sat like couch potatoes in front our TV’s or PC’s- not getting in amongst it in our own communities.Somehow I feel we need to reconnect as a society to bring about positive change- not just rely on politicians or the media to set the agenda.

    Watching the Obama campaign was very inspiring and food for thought…also the We Love the NHS backlash to Daniel Hannan’s total misrepresentation of our health service.
    “People power” sometimes works!

  • Helen Branson

    Had to root around a bit to find the story. Usual Sunday paper rubbish which because it is on front pages, the news feels they have to cover as well. Pathetic non story. Politicians as you say caught between rock and hard place. Like if Gordon had not gone to Cumbria, they’d have said where is he? If he had not paid tribute other than at the Cenotaph, why not? They should just get on with their jobs and understand the press and telly will whinge and whine whatever they do

  • Mal Kelly

    Watched Cameron on Marr, apologising. I’m with you – what does he have to apologise for? He is a high profile politician paying his respects at a time people want to see those respects being paid. It is like the whole Wootton Bassett tributes and the constant refrain that people do not want politicians there. Politicians represent people, and deserve more respect than we are prepared to give them.

  • Bryan Marsh

    I wonder if the poll lead is in part explained by people deciding to think for themselves rather than be told what to think by newspapers and TV pundits. Hope so

  • Paul Lee

    Re the shift in the polls: maybe the realisation that a Right Wing, Australian Oligarch is again attempting to influence British political history is having the opposite effect.

  • Vivat crescat

    How long before we have a “Brown Should Apologise for the Floods” headline? Bet they’re working on it at the Sun.

  • Em

    I was listening to Archive on 4 which talks about AC and Malcolm Tucker this week. I love “The Thick of It”, but as someone interviewed for the show said, one wonders what kind of negative effect the show has on the electorate. Politicians shoot themselves in the foot with the expenses scandal but the unrelenting press and other media portrayals contribute in creating a perception that government is rotten at the core. I’m not for censorship but it’s an interesting idea to keep in mind. How does culture nurture cynicism and apathy?

    Any London papers could publish Hogarth’s vitriolic drawings today and they’d feel more or less contemporary — except Hogarth showed how all sectors of society were diseased whilst we refuse to acknowledge this fact for ourselves. There’s a disconnect in this age of individuality and individual rights, for we the public refuse to take any responsibility whatsoever for the state we’re in. This Labour government is very much of the people and by the people (most “regulars” folks in a British government ever possibly) and it is ludicrous to perpetrate this belief that your average MPs is a Faustian reptile whilst the rest of us are so hard working and so generous and live a squeaky clean life.

    To assign any responsibility back to the people isn’t the same as taking the Tory line, i.e. abandoning the poor as means of waging war on poverty, but holding a mirror back to the rest of society isn’t something politicians should get away with. We should never ask of politicians, or anybody else, what we don’t demand of ourselves. But we don’t. In a strange way, I guess this is why politicians would rather apologise even when they are not in the wrong.

    Any animosity behind the photo-op, whether it was staged or not, is more revealing of the critics than of Brown or Cameron or any PR person behind it.

  • Alan Quinn

    I’ve been out today canavssing for Labour in my neck of the woods. Worringly for the tories there is not the anti government feeling there was in 1997, many people are quite happy and when prompted they all agree on one thing: Labour has made a difference on the NHS and education.
    Game on.