Alex Massie

Mr Brown’s Trip to Washington

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Poor Gordon Brown. Yes, really. The expectations for his visit to Washington this week could not have been framed more unkindly. It's as though the Prime Minister has been set up to fail. His enemies in the press will not mind this, but his friends' talk has not helped either. The less hype this visit, and this speech to Congress, received, the better it would have been for Brown. Then he might have been able to surprise everyone. Instead, there's been all this nonsense about Brown being, in a BBC News reporter's phrase, "sprinkled" with Obama's "rhetorical stardust". Yes really to that too.

Normal people hear this sort of guff and think "who do you think you are kidding?". Then again, they can't help it, can they? According to Ben Brogan "one person who has seen the draft has suggested to Mr Brown that he needs to find his inner Obama." It is hard to think of a more gruesome, bathetic image than that.

The notion that being photographed with the new President can offer anything substantial to help Brown escape his political Stalingrad seems far-fetched. Still, who knows, perhaps something surprising will turn up and perhaps this talk of a "global new deal" will amount to something substantial?

Brown is further handicapped, however, by the press corps' desire to parse every word, every look, every gesture that passes between Brown and Obama. That most, if not all, of this is pretty meaningless fluff matters little: much of the press will take some delight in seeing the Prime Minister  "snubbed" or "rebuffed" or otherwise embarrassed. The "Special Relationship" exists so that British newspapers can play nurse.

Indeed it's already happening. Apparently there won't be a full-scale press conference with Obama after all. This is said to be embarrassing. (I also understand that the DC-based British correspondents have been denied access to even the drive-by "media availability" that is scheduled. They are not happy about this. Complaints have been registered.)

Mind you, Brown isn't helping himself either. His article in the Sunday Times was, to put it kindly, pedestrian. Or, if you prefer, terrible. The conclusion was especially grim:

"And as America stands at its own dawn of hope, I want that hope to be fulfilled through us all coming together to shape the 21st century as the first century of a truly global society."

UPDATE: You might expect some papers to enjoy the prospect of a disastrous visit, but look, here's the Guardian cheerfully running a piece pointing out that few, if any, Americans (well, New Yorkers) have any idea who Brown is. With friends like these... The press is in a win-win situation, generally speaking: if it all goes well then national pride is restored and if it's a shambles, well, there's nothing Fleet Street likes better than cock-ups and fiasco...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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