22 February 2010

Brittania, its limp-dick press and Westminster staff

(Last week, the British press desecrated Canadians and the Olympics with unrivalled venom and pettiness. For a moment, we did think some of version 28 Days Later had infected Jolly Ol’ as members of its press all seemed inexplicably rabid. Thus, this is perfect timing for giving our North American readers an idea of what’s going on in the British media one week later. And before you ask, yes, it’s always like this.)

British TV journalism is a career choice potentially paved with gold. You might recognise the names Andrew Marr, Jeremy Paxman, David Dimbleby and others from public television stations. They are examples of men (they’re always men) who have gone from political and news shows to lavishly produced series about politics, history, and the arts. Such series sell rights around the English-speaking world and are inevitably accompanied by luscious and pricey books. Not too shabby a way of padding what surely are already generous BBC wages and pensions.

But if written political journalism in Britain doesn’t offer the same visibility and, therefore, sales, the aura surrounding those who cover Westminster still resonates with a section of the British public. Few possibilities for international sales here but if you write a book full of anonymous and unverifiable insider information and spin it into a tale with a level of moral deprivation that would make Jackie Collins blush, your purse and your rep could benefit from the endeavour. The proof in is the pudding: as Alastair Campbell gave testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry last month, Andrew Gilligan was interviewed by just about every single media outlet seven years after he broke the “dodgy dossier” story. And the Gilligan story was just that, a news story. Imagine how much mileage one can get from an entire book.

Enter Andrew Rawnsley. With hair as voluminous as that of a Ken doll and with a Brian Mulroney-esque chin, Rawnsley possesses that combination of utterly-strange-yet-perfect-for-television-broadcasting looks. Nonetheless, after a short stint at the BBC in his salad days, Rawnsley has spent much of his career writing for the Guardian and the Observer, two publications which have been gradually and decidedly turning their backs on the left and the British Labour Party of late.

Andrew Rawnsley, author of The End of the Party

So, just in time for the next election (and it is very uncertain the Tory party will win this, despite the quasi-entirety of British press blatantly championing its leader David Cameron for the last two years), Rawnsley launches The End of the Party, a scathing book that portrays British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a bully.

There is a range of allegations in Rawnsley’s book, from Gordon Brown snarling “They are out to get me” (and he’s right, they are) to Brown insisting on being part of a meeting and then talking with Ed Balls during that meeting. “Was there ever a more demeaning scene in a prime minister's study?” decries Bruce Anderson of The Independent. This is the sort of infantile hyperbole broadsheet British journalists rely on to make careers for themselves these days.

Anybody who pays any attention to British politics has known of the book and its allegations for months now, but the British press orchestrated an onslaught of Rawnsley coverage this weekend and the papers have been abuzz — so much so that Gordon Brown issued a statement in which he assured the British people that he has never hit anybody. Not exactly reassuring but then again, Brown, unlike Blair, isn’t always surrounded by the best communications strategists.

Members of the Cabinet and Peter Mandelson came to the defence of Brown yesterday.

This show of support for Gordon Brown incensed a simple civilian named Christine Pratt. Head of a charity called the National Bullying Helpline, Pratt decided she couldn’t keep the confidentiality of her callers under wraps. This morning on the Today Programme, she claimed to have received at least two complaints from callers who said there was a culture of bullying at No. 10. No one claimed to have been bullied directly by Gordon Brown, said Pratt.

Quickier than you can say oh-my-God-why-does-she-remind-me-of-Linda-Tripp-? the Labour Party has come forth with complaints about Pratt’s charity which is apparently using the helpline to refer callers to paying professional services, including those of Christine Pratt’s husband, a man who has been accused of bullying customers for alleged non-payment of services.

In the U.S., the Republicans should have known before they pounced on Linda Tripp and here David Cameron can’t even learn from very recent history and has called for an inquiry into the Brown bullying matter. It’s true that Pratt isn’t the entire story here but Labour will be able to put the ramblings of this wholly unconvincing woman front and centre and discredit the entire critique of Brown.

The British press needs new people to talk about and after twelve years of writing about the Labour Party, the press is aggressively pushing for new blood at No. 10. And so this is why they are promoting a man who isn’t smart enough to run as fast as he can from this story. They want Cameron to rule Britain.

Beyond the British press, there are greater concerns at play. Children who are bullied should be protected. Women who are sexual harassed should have the right to sue. What we cannot do, however, is sink into a pervasive culture of victimhood.

We are talking about grown people here. Intelligent adults with resources and coping mechanisms. They chose a macho environment and a job that comes with all kinds of perks, expenses, generous pensions and a business world that will fall before their feet and offer blank cheque salaries and golden parachutes the moment they leave No. 10. What we likely have here are people who don’t like Gordon Brown in a society that gives opportunists a lot of latitude for claiming victimhood.

Yes, the times, they are a-changing. Compare and contrast:According to Rawnsley, O'Donnell was so disturbed by the effect on those in Downing Street that he took it upon himself to try "to calm down frightened duty clerks, badly treated phone operators and other bruised staff by telling them, 'Don't take it personally'".


During the Second World War, some transport arrangement went awry. It was in no way the driver's fault. This did not save him from a prime ministerial rocketing. When Churchill had stumped off harrumping, Anthony Eden went over to console the driver. "Don't worry, Sir," came the reply: "After all, it's not everyone who can say they've been blown up by the Great Man in person." Eden's reply was heartfelt: "Don't you believe it.".

Hitler shouldn’t have happened at all, but we should all be grateful he faced Churchill and and not Gordon’s staff. I cannot imagine my contemporaries whining to helplines about President Obama having been rude to them. But to be fair, nor can I imagine many of my contemporaries here or on the other side of the pond taking a beach at Normandy. 

And all the above takes it for granted the rumours are true. We know the corridors of powers are crowded with snakes. At this point in British history, with all the open treachery from within the Labour Party, the hissing is positively deafening. It isn't difficult to imagine one simple anecdote of, let's say, an inanimate object accidentally hurled to the floor in an abrupt moment and how it could be imagined into a multitude of abusive rampages.

Andrew Marr in the clip above and other journalists make it sound as though this was always known. If this has been known for twelve years, why are Rawnsley and the press making a story of it on the eve of these elections.

Remember all the venom the British press spewed at us Canadians last week? This is who they are. Don't believe the hype.

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