This not so charming man

6:09 pm - January 23rd 2008

by Paul Linford    

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A couple of weeks back, the right-wing columnist Richard Littlejohn made a vile attack on Gordon Brown in which he made reference to his “kiddie fiddler smile.” That estimable blogger Paul Burgin was one of those who were suitably outraged, expressing the view that Littlejohn should not be allowed to get away with such a “joke.”

I left the following comment on his blog:

“It’s not a joke, Paul, it’s a deadly serious attempt by the right to fix the idea of Gordon as a “weirdo” in the public mind. It’s not just the likes of Littlejohn who are doing it, you can see also see it happening on all the leading right-wing blogs.”

When I wrote this, I had in mind a particularly disgusting post on Guido in which a sock-puppet called “Stanislav” claimed the Prime Minister was suffering from chronic mental illness as a result of having repressed his homosexuality, and that marrying Sarah and having children as the prospect of No 10 drew closer had essentially been a front.

Of course, David Cameron would never utter such contemptible rubbish. But nevertheless, it’s clear from his interview with the new Times editor this morning, in which he describes Mr Brown as “that strange man in Downing Street,” that portraying his opponent as somehow not one of us is a key part of the Tory leader’s political strategy.

Mr Cameron clearly wants to portray himself as This Charming Man, and Brown as This Strange Man, but if the public has any sense it will backfire. What on earth gives Cameron the right to describe another man as “strange” and by what measure of “normality” does he seek to judge the Prime Minister?

We are all individuals, and the fact that, like Esau, Gordon Brown is not a “smooth” man does not necessarily make him a bad man. Increasingly, for the political and media class, it seems that the worst crime is to be different.
* Cross-posted on my own blog.

Sunny adds: I also love Anthony Barnett’s response to this.

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About the author
Paul Linford is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a digital publishing manager and former Parliamentary Lobby journalist where he was political editor of the Newcastle Journal for seven years. He has an 18-year career in newspaper journalism and lives in Belper, Derbyshire, with his wife and two children. A committed Christian, his faith informs his own belief in progressive politics and the view that a society must always be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. His eponymous blog combines a mixture of the personal and the political and has become particularly renowned for its commentaries on liberal-left politics. He is also a leading voice in support of an English Parliament and other democratic reforms. Also at: Paul Linford blog
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Reader comments

I”d have more sympathy for Brown if he hadn’t, for the last thirteen years, been at the heart of an organisation that has taken every advantage of the anonymous briefing, the playing of the man not the ball and the unwarranted smear. We’re talking about a man who gave Charlie Whelan a job for pity’s sake.

If Brown had been more outspoken when this was being done to others, maybe more people would be rallying to his defence now. And anyway, most – like me – are happy to judge him on his deed rather than his personality – he doesn’t come out of that looking good either.

Justin, agreed. But I’d like to think I’m against politically motivated character assassinations from Labour and the right.

I shouldn’t get defensive of Brown when he faces such kind of hostility, but the point is the right is making it (or it has long been) part of their regular arsenal. A certain case involving a lib dem politician comes to m ind that you’re very aware of.

Yes, that Guido post is quite disgusting. But does it MATTER whether Brown – or anyone else- is gay or not? There’s a compelling case for his removal on much more serious grounds, as Justin points out above.

I agree Sunny, the thing is, this is such a part of the fabric of British politics on bothj left and right, I’m not quite sure what you’d do about it.

I agree that the view from the moral highground is exhilarating, but unfortunately the people you need to convince can’t be arsed making the climb.

Today I heard PMQs and the analysis that followed on BBC Radio 5 Live. I heard every damn Tory label Brown a ditherer in order to fix that in the public mind; now I read this about him being labelled a weirdo and that’s far more sinister. Surely it’s politics that suffers in the long-term from this stuff – so calculating, harmful and distasteful! I hope this backfires on Cameron – polluting the public sphere with his bile!


Thanks for pulling these various threads together. As a tactic it really is vile and one can only hope that it does back fire on the Tories and on Cameron in particular. The Tories liked Blair – he was seen as one of them, a gent, a ‘good chap’ who was jolly good company. Brown has never courted the Tory grandees, never tried to reach out to the opposition members of the ‘club’ that is the House of Commons. Why? Because to him they (the Tories) represent privilege, elitism and opportunism – he just doesn’t like them.

I’m genuinely sorry there isn’t more sympathy for Brown from the likes of Justin and Sunny. To paraphrase something Tony Blair once said, I think we need to remember that the choice at the next election is not between the Labour Prime Minister we have and the Labour Prime MInister we would like to have, it’s between the Labour Prime Minister we have and a Conservative Prime Minister.

Character Assaniation and accusations of being abnormal are not traits which are restricted to the Tories, Sunny, it’s endemic across the political spectrum – coincidentally, I blogged about this myself today – and yes, it’s very sad. But every time someone refers to Melanie Philips as Mad Mel or Michael Howard as Dracula it embeds the normalisation of this culture.

What do you propose we do about it, because I’m fresh out of ideas?

>it’s between the Labour Prime Minister we have and a Conservative Prime Minister.

Or, rather, between the Conservative Prime Minister we have and a slightly posher alternative one? That “vote for us or the eeevil Tories might get in” must have past its sell-by date by now.

I’m with Justin (and Jennie). NuLabour’s little Blairite turn, of which Brown has been the chief executive, practically invented this stuff. I never felt sorry for bomb-makers who lost their hands putting the detonators together, so I won’t be crying for Brown either.


If you want to make the argument that a Cameron Government will actually be more liberal and progressive than the Brown government, please go ahead. It’s a perfectly respectable argument in this era of blurred ideological boundaries and political cross-dressing – but what I actually think is that Cameron’s re-branding of the Conservative Party is essentially no more than that, and that it will revert to type if and when it gets back into power.

NuLab did not invent character assassination and smear. Have you heard of Joe Haines and Bernard Ingham?

Miranda Grell, anyone?

>NuLab did not invent character assassination and smear.

Fair point. It’s more like the industrial revolution, I suppose. Nobody in Manchester invented weaving, just a great way to do lots more of it a lot more efficiently. So I stand corrected.

My point isn’t the Cameron is any more ‘progressive’ (ha!) than Brown. It’s that neither deserves the moniker. And it’s an increasing (and increasingly funny to watch) sign of Labour desperation, that all there’s left to say is: “hey, the Tories would be worse, though.” How inspiring.

I agree with the sentiment of this thread. Brown should be judged on his record, not on his manner or eccentricities. And his record is atrocious.

But every time someone refers to Melanie Philips as Mad Mel or Michael Howard as Dracula it embeds the normalisation of this culture.

Except that Melanie Phillips is genuinely barking… 😛

Actually, to some extent one could argue that Melanie Phillips actually benefits from the ‘Mad Mel’ epithet as the allusion to her being of doubtful sanity seems, at times, to serve as mitigation for some of her more offensive rhetoric where the same arguments, if advanced by a more considered writer, would attract far greater and more vehement public opprobrium.

Mad Mel deserves it, while nothing that Brown has done suggests that he is either mad or weird.

The obvious point to make is that we had a “pretty straight kind of guy” and look where that got us. Let’s a have a weirdo all the way.

I’m genuinely sorry there isn’t more sympathy for Brown from the likes of Justin and Sunny.

Well, I prefer Labour to the Tories, obviously. I’m not going to be neutral. And yes, I don’t trust Cameron’s modernisation agenda either. I’m just saying I’d like to have more sympathy but its slightly difficult. Though, efforts like this need to be highlighted and dealt with and I’m glad we’re doing that.

I don’t think its possible to make a comparison with Mel Phillips either. Her writing is off the charts compared to whatever Brown has said.

17. Fawkes is a tory party black op

It is on the mirror and the telegraph Guido a is secret stooge of tory party HQ. He has been found out due to a letter he sent which had a tory party legal disclaimer on it. Guido is Tory party black op.

You have to admit that Gordon is a bit – well – weird don’t you? I mean that thing he does with his hands and the way his head looks so big all the time…

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