Alex Massie

Poor Gordon Brown

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I had a pretty keen dislike of Gordon Brown long before it was popular or profitable to hold the Prime Minister in low regard, but it's now obvious that the time for anger or disappointment or fury has passed. The only humane response to the Prime Minister's predicament is pity. The grotesque, trumped-up, "row" over the Prime Minister's hand-written letters to the widows and mothers of fallen servicemen is sickening.

The British press corps has rarely been known for its sense of decorum or restraint, but there come moments when legitmate criticism crosses some kind of line and becomes bullying. This is one such instance. Clearly it's regrettable that the Prime Minister's letter to Jacqui Janes contained a number of spelling mistakes. Clearly too, there are legitimate questions that may be asked over the government's Afghan policy and the way the war has been conducted. But using grieving mothers and widows as astick with which to beat the government is not, shall we say, an edifying or ennobling sight.

Not content with reporting Janes' unhappiness - though, like Mr Eugenides, one may reasonably wonder about a person who chooses to record a telephone call from the PM and then, presumably*, sell the tape to a taboid newspaper - other media organisations, including the BBC, have, unsurprisingly hunted out other widows to ask them: Was the PM's letter to you sufficiently compassionate? Please tell us it wasn't, because if you say it was you won't feature on the news, you know...

This is shameful stuff. Whatever one may think of the PM, the notion that he has no care or empathy for the families of sldiers killed in Afghanistan is, to put it mildly, a stretch based upon little credible evidence. That a blind man - which, functionally speaking, Brown is - takes the trouble to hand-write - or, if you will, scrawl - these letters when it would evidently be much, much easier for him to dictate them might, in a better world, be considered evidence of the Prime Minister's good intentions. Of course, if they were typed he'd be criticised for not writing them by hand...

As I say, I hold no brief for Brown but the behaviour of the press in this instance has been shameful. Though not, of course, surprising. And, of course, by using the deaths of servicemen as a stick with which to beat Brown, the papers are themselves exploiting those deaths, not for any great cause, but simply for commercial advantage and to demonstrate that they too know how to kick a crippled Prime Minister. Whatever else it may be, this is not one of the media's finer moments.

*I say presumably. But perhaps might be more accurate. I have no idea if Mrs Janes is being paid by the Sun. But no-one would be surprised if she were.

UPDATE: Hopi Sen has similar thoughts. He's a bit more restrained than I am, mind you. And Iain Martin has also been swimming in these waters.

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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