Gordon brown

How do you say Southwell?

They were talking about the origins of the Bramley apple on The Kitchen Cabinet on the wireless last week, and naturally they spoke of Southwell, that agreeable minster town in Nottinghamshire. I was surprised, almost let down, when a local man pronounced the place-name to rhyme with mouthw’ll. I had long been careful to pronounce the –outh– like the –oth– in mother. I needn’t have been so shocked. The careful work of Klaus Forster published in 1981, A Pronouncing Dictionary of English Place-Names, includes a version of Southwell rhyming South– with mouth. Indeed it was the version, he tells us, listed in Broadcast English: Recommendations to announcers regarding the pronunciation

The unforeseen nature of consequences

In March 1847 the world first read of Mr Toots saying: ‘It’s of no consequence.’ He went on saying it for the next 13 months until the last number of Dickens’s Dombey and Son had been published. His embarrassed sallies into affairs of the heart had gained a catchphrase. Mr Toots’s remark meant ostensibly, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ but I was reminded of it by the warning that the United States issued after the killing of three of its service people in Jordan. It promised a ‘very consequential response’. To me consequential suggested a different knot of meanings, about causal effect. The insurance world thinks of consequential loss not as an

What’s in a place name?

There is a place in Westmorland called Wordsworth’s Well, but I must tell you that it is not named after me. A field in Westmorland is called Wordy Dolt, and I am glad to tell you that it is not named after me either. Here wordy (like –worthy elsewhere) means ‘enclosure’, not ‘voluble’ nor indeed ‘valuable’, and dolt means ‘share of the common field’, not ‘idiot’. I discovered this from the glorious English Place-Name Society. I call it glorious because it has been going for 100 years and is still pegging away at a survey recording and analysing historically all the place-names of England. So far 91 volumes have been

Patrick O'Flynn

Gordon Brown’s plan to save the Union won’t wash

Back in 2006, when he was close to executing his masterplan to chase Tony Blair out of Downing Street, Gordon Brown sought to address something that worried many voters: his Scottishness. ‘My wife is from Middle England, so I can relate to it,’ he pronounced, as if Middle England were a town somewhere off the M40. In fact, though Sarah Brown was born in Buckinghamshire, she spent most of her early childhood in Tanzania and her family moved to North London when she was seven. By mistaking a term denoting the provincial English psyche for a geographical area, Brown merely demonstrated that he was indeed all at sea. He has

How do events become unrecognisable?

Sir Ed Davey, who leads the Lib Dems, declared last week: ‘Squatter Sunak is holed up in Downing Street, desperately clinging on to power.’ It was odd of him to remind voters of the origin of this little joke about squatting. On 8 May 2010, two days after Labour’s defeat in the general election, the Sun ran a big headline: ‘Squatter holed up in No. 10.’ A subheading read: ‘Man, 59, refuses to leave Downing Street.’ That was Gordon Brown, of course, but anyone who remembers those uncertain days will know that he was waiting to see whether the Tories and the Lib Dems would form a coalition or whether he

Who is Gordon Brown to pose as the voice of fiscal sanity?

Gordon Brown is demanding Parliament be recalled for an emergency budget. By October, he says, quoting a study he commissioned from the University of Loughborough, half the population could be living in fuel poverty. ‘Not enough thinking is being done about the major social crisis,’ he told Radio Four’s The World at One on Monday. The former Chancellor and Prime Minister does, of course, have every right to make what representations he wishes to the government, and no-one can call him a hypocrite for wanting the Chancellor and MPs to sacrifice their summer holidays for an emergency budget. His first holiday as PM, in 2007, famously lasted half a day

Brown burns Starmer

Outriders are all the rage these days in British politics. Liz Truss has Kwasi Kwarteng and Lord Frost: Rishi Sunak has Dominic Raab and Mark Harper. They act to deliver the messages their candidate can’t, launching attacks, fighting fires and speaking home truths. So it’s no surprise then that Gordon Brown, the Giffnock grouch, is now unofficially performing that role for Sir Keir Starmer, his beleaguered successor as Labour leader. Brown is close to team Starmer, and performs the role that John Major did for David Cameron in the coalition years, acting as a trial balloon to test how ideas will land. The cost-of-living crisis has been a tricky challenge

What shape is the Treasury in now?

Don’t bring a bottle. Your chances of finding a party in full swing down those chilly corridors are close to zero. At most, you might hear the sound of a distant flute playing a courante by Lully. As Sir Howard Davies puts it in this insider’s view, which manages to be both authoritative and quite cheeky: The Treasury does not cultivate a warm and cuddly working environment. You may well not know if your immediate boss has a spouse or partner, and would certainly never meet them if they exist. Social events are at a premium. Yet this notoriously ascetic culture is not in the least hierarchical. Junior principals are

Gordon Brown’s office took Russian bank’s money

Labour has been trying to make political capital out of Russian-linked donations to the Tory party. Sir Keir Starmer might play the cross-party card in the House but not all on his benches share that sense of magnanimity. Liam Byrne enjoyed taking a pop at Boris Johnson’s socialising with oligarchs yesterday while Rachel Reeves and David Lammy previously called for the Conservatives to return nearly two million pounds of donations made since Johnson took office in 2019. Labour’s basis for this demand is that the donors ‘made money from Russia or have alleged links to the Putin regime’: quite the conflation between actual Kremlin cronies and those who have simply

To save the Union, ignore Gordon Brown

As he blasts his way through the remaining support beams of the UK constitution, Gordon Brown is doing more to deliver Scottish independence than the SNP. The former Prime Minister is reportedly poised to recommend that Labour adopt ‘devo max’ as a policy, which would see the SNP-run Scottish parliament handed yet another tranche of powers. Only defence and foreign policy would remain in the hands of Westminster: everything else would be at the whim of Nicola Sturgeon. The theory is that by increasing the powers of Holyrood, the Scots’ appetite for independence will be sated. But is no evidence for this, and 23 years of evidence against it. From

What I really said to Gordon Brown: Field Marshal Lord Guthrie sets the record straight

A headline in the Mail on Sunday, taken up eagerly by the BBC’s Today programme, claimed recently: ‘The SAS is getting worried that not enough posh officers are applying for jobs.’ Having hooked those shocked by the thought that the SAS should draw such distinctions, as well as those appalled that oiks are applying at all, the piece actually went on to explain that one officer failed the selection because he ‘lacked the sophistication’ to be able to brief cabinet ministers on operations. No lack of sophistication ever attached to Charles Guthrie. When, as head of school at Harrow, you’ve had tea with Winston Churchill in the headmaster’s study, planned

Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution should be called ‘The Tragedy of Gordon Brown’

Murder Island features eight real-life ‘ordinary people’ seeking to solve a fictional killing on a fictional Scottish island. What follows is so confused and confusing that you can only imagine it was pitched to Channel 4 as ‘Broadchurch meets The Apprentice’ and nodded through as a result, without anybody asking such pesky questions as ‘So how might that work, then?’ Or if they did, that they were silenced by the news that Ian Rankin was signed on as the writer — whatever that might mean, seeing as most of the programme is necessarily unscripted and the investigation itself impossible to plot in advance. Tuesday’s opening episode began with the ordinary

Who should get the vaccine doses?

Every now and again, Gordon Brown makes a decent point – as he does today, pointing out that 80 per cent of the jabs have gone to the 20 richest countries. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation chief, warned in January that ‘even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.’ MPs rebel over cutting aid. But send vaccines to overseas pensioners, when they could be heading for the arms of British schoolchildren? Here, they fall silent. Ethically, it’s a far harder question. When Covid vaccines were still a hypothetical, the moral dilemma was clear. Once a

What does it really mean to feel English?

Referring to the precarious future of the Union of England and Scotland, the authors of Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain conclude their book with the observation that ‘it is hard to imagine that any break-up would not be the source of regret and recrimination’. I imagine our present prime minister, even though he has a pandemic to handle, thinks of this with increasing force. There would be few faster routes from office for him than to awake one morning to find he had presided over the end of the Union. We are weeks away from elections in Scotland that seem certain to bring another SNP victory, and calls from

Rishi Sunak is turning into a Gordon Brown tribute act

Lots of self-promotion. An avalanche of leaks. Fiddly tax changes that always somehow turn out to be an increase, plenty of creative double counting, and heavy spending on marginal seats, all wrapped up in a package designed to effortlessly transport its author into Number 10. Remind you of anyone? It is of course Gordon Brown, and one of his interminable Budget speeches, in his pomp. But it is also a pretty good description of Rishi Sunak.  The Tory Chancellor is quickly turning into the political equivalent of one of those bands hamming up Abba covers on a Saturday night: a Gordon Brown tribute act. The trouble is that the country could

Gordon Brown has done enough damage in Scotland

Gordon Brown has broken his silence again. The former prime minister told the Edinburgh International Book Festival that the Scottish Parliament had ‘failed to deliver a fairer and more prosperous Scotland’ and had instead become a ‘battering ram for constitutional warfare’. What’s that, Lassie? Timmy’s trapped down the well? And creating a Scottish parliament to run almost all of Scotland’s affairs separately from the rest of the UK helped rather than hurt the campaign for independence? Jeepers. The battering ram that Brown laments exists only because the party and government in which he played a somewhat senior role insisted on fashioning it. At the time of the Scottish devolution referendum

The joys of scavenging the Thames

‘It’s very hard for you to really live in the day,’ says Ruth, ‘because you don’t know by evening you may have a letter from an agency saying you’ve got to go tomorrow.’ She arrived in the UK in 1937, aged 15, sent here by her Jewish family to escape the Nazis. Now 98, she was talking to Nikki Tapper, a presenter for BBC West Midlands, at a community centre in Birmingham, which since 2015 has committed itself to be a city of sanctuary. In The Syrians and the Kindertransport on Radio 4 (produced by George Luke), Tapper brings together two generations of refugees, divided by 70 years, who have


Gordon Brown’s selective praise

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today to give a talk called ‘First Among Equals.’ Audience members will be charged £12 to hear Brown’s ‘painfully honest account’ of the ‘highs and lows’ of his political career. Alas, Mr S has reasons to believe though that Brown may be offering a rather specific account when he speaks today. On the festival website he is hailed as ‘one of the most formidable chancellors that Britain has ever seen’ by an unnamed political journalist. It’s a quote Brown has used once before, to promote his book My Life, Our Times which came out in November 2017. But

A chronicle of modern times

Jonathan Coe writes compelling, humane and funny novels, but you sometimes suspect he wants to write more audacious ones. He has a long-standing interest in formally experimental writers — Flann O’Brien and B. S. Johnson are heroes — but it’s an interest that has never really become full-blown influence. Though The Rotter’s Club (2001) — our first introduction to some of the characters who populate Middle England — contains a 13,000-word-long sentence and a wonderfully complicated scene in which a husband and wife have a misdirected conversation (he completing a crossword; she reading a love letter from one of her son’s teachers) as they each consult a dictionary, for the

The Spectator’s Notes | 2 November 2017

Poor Gordon Brown. He embodies the problem traditionally associated with being male, which is that our sex finds it difficult to understand human feelings. Mr Brown recognises, he says in his forthcoming autobiography, that he was not suited to a touchy-feely age. Perhaps it was just as well, because once men, particularly Members of Parliament, start touching and feeling they get into even more trouble, and discover — often too late — that not everyone they touch and feel welcomes it. They are, you might say, groping in the dark. Once upon a time, a high percentage of women understood this defect and usually forgave the opposite sex. But now