The Curious Obsessions of Gordon Brown: The Case of Martin Bright

The financial system is in meltdown. The world is on the brink of depression with all the social and political consequences that implies (none of them good). You might have expected a Labour prime minister to concentrate on helping his country in its moment of danger. Not so with Gordon Brown.
Westminster journalists are discovering all kinds of derelictions of duty. The business lending guarantee scheme, which was meant to provide bridging loans to stop firms from closing, is weeks behind schedule . The private financing of public works, which I was banging on about more than 10 years ago is proving a greater disaster than even I imagined. Although there is an urgent need for public works to save the construction industry, there is no private finance because, as you will have noticed, lending has stalled. Brown won’t sort it out
Obviously, Brown is happier talking to Congress about global schemes for financial reform than getting on with the hard business of government. Note, though, that his idea that global institutions did not warn of a coming crisis is part of the Brownite myth that our troubles have nothing to do with his shocking failure to regulate finance capital. As early as 2006, the International Monetary Fund said

The wholesale revolution in the financial services industry in recent years could trigger an outbreak of instability “with macroeconomic consequences” unless it is adequately monitored. It told a seminar at the Bank of England that technological changes and financial deregulation had changed the way that banks and other players operated. It said the increase in competition and the number of new players such as hedge funds in the financial systems would force central banks and regulators to change the way they set interest rates and regulated markets. It told senior City figures and economists at a briefing in London on Friday that the greater speed and flexibility of financial markets such as Britain and the United States could leave them more exposed to booms and busts in asset prices.

How right the IMF was.

But Brown also has an alarming ability to switch from the grandiose to the petty as the curious case of my colleague Martin Bright shows. As political editor of the New Statesman he made a critical documentary on Ken Livingstone for Channel 4. (It’s still worth watching and you can see it here.)
Although Livingstone is barely in the Labour Party, and although Bright criticised him from the left for betraying every decent social democratic principle by forming alliances with the misogynists, homophobes and anti-semites of the Islamist far right, Brown was furious. His henchman Charlie Whelan set about driving Bright out. (I and many others know this for a fact because Whelan went round Westminster boasting how he would get Bright out.) Bright was duly driven out.
I should declare an interest. I was forced out of the New Statesman for writing What’s Left? But then the office politics of the Statesman have always been in inverse proportion to its sales, and I can live with the denunciations of editors for deviating from the party line. They are free decide who writes for a paper. Politicians are not, and it strikes me as a far more serious matter that the Prime Minister of what is meant to be a free country can determine who writes about politics in what is meant to be a free press.
Bright had to move on, and the Spectator hired him to write a blog, the Bright Stuff. In one tiny item, which did not even appear in the print edition he reported that

Obama showed that it was possible to apologise with good grace over his appointment of Tom Daschle. Now word reaches The Bright Stuff that the man who has never knowingly apologised for anything is preparing his very own “mea culpa”. I am told that Whitehall officials have been ordered to make a compilation DVD of Obama’s various apologies to the American TV networks to be studied by the Prime Minister. The idea of Gordon Brown practising a humble self-deprecating manner in front of the mirror based on what he has seen on his training DVD doesn’t bear thinking about. But then again… maybe it does.

In another item, which again only appeared on his blog, he wrote

As the Cabinet meets in Southampton today there is one issue that will be strictly off the agenda: the Brown legacy. I have it on very good authority that Gordon and those around him will not even allow the subject to be discussed in case it suggests that he knows the next election is lost. People coming to him with new ideas are told not to use the “L word”.

As before, this was interesting news but hardly earth-shattering.
Downing Street went wild, however, and is still wild, perhaps because both stories were true. Rather than concentrating on the visit to Washington and the future of the economy, the PM’s most senior advisers are berating a journalist for his blog posts.
The last prime minister to become so obsessed with poor press coverage was John Major.
He led his party to a landslide defeat.

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10 thoughts on “The Curious Obsessions of Gordon Brown: The Case of Martin Bright

  1. “I was forced out of the New Statesman for writing What’s Left? ”

    Sounds interesting. Any chance of a post on that?

  2. Not much to tell, Dwight, it all got very nasty and the NUJ had to get involved, but as I say in the piece editors have the right to decide who writes in their papers. Gordon Brown does not.

  3. I’d be interested to know to what extent, since What’s Left, you have been plagued by furious lefties calling you a traitor, and unbearably smug righties saying ‘welcome to the club’. Also, which are more annoying?

  4. Brit, that’s a tough one I get the screams of pseudo-leftists and the condescension of smug rightists almost daily. I would say that in their own distinct ways they are both equally appalling.

  5. Martin’s an interesting case. He blogged at Coffee House recently that he was enjoying the level of debate (with the odd exception) compared with the NS, suggesting that leaving the party line was instant gamma-ray time amongst NS readers, whereas Speccie readers enjoyed the argument.
    Don’t wish to generalise, but as Guido says, “New Labour – New Ferrets”

  6. Eventually, the incestuous symbiosis of the MSM and politics has to come unstuck, or at least detached.

    Blair and Campbell led the press by the nose and whipped it from behind, but the media seemed to enjoy it so much, they kept asking to be abused and made fools of over and over again.

    As the MSM became addicted to public humiliation, people turned away in embarrassed disgust.

    When people like Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/04/brown-obama-meeting-labour-election

    can pretend that if Gordon Brown would only clench his teeth and spit out a mumbled apology, New Labour could glide to a ticker-tape, historic fourth term election victory, is it any wonder that people see the press as the government’s propaganda arm or brain-damaged or both?

    Is it any wonder that people turn to blogs?

    http://writenow.politicalnewsblogs.com/2009/03/04/gordon-brown-je-ne-regret-rien/

    Is it any wonder that people like Hazel Blears and Andy Burnham think that censoring the internet and chopping the typing-fingers off bloggers are the only ways to ensure that the government and party line gets out there, loud and clear, on-message and without deviation, analysis or discussion?

    Once politicians and the media decide they are going to make a bed together, they inevitably have to lie in it until one or the other decides to leave or kick the other one out.

    For the onlookers, it is just another porn-fest which provides some temporary grunting titillation, but in the end you just change channels.

  7. What’s Left was like a lighting strike, and I think it is the most important book this decade. Hazlitt would love it.

  8. Excellent post however , I was wanting to know if
    you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you
    could elaborate a little bit further. Thank you!

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