Sunday, February 21, 2010

‘I have never hit anybody. And I’m not a crook.’

Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s interview with Gordon Brown was hit and miss. Literally.

I was astonished when I watched this part of it:

KGM: Have you ever hit anyone?
GB: I have never hit anybody in my life.
KGM: You know this is all what's being said…
GB: Let me just say absolutely clearly, so that there is no misunderstanding about that, I have never, never hit anybody in my life.
KGM: Or shoved them?
GB: No, I don't do these sorts of things.

It’s extraordinary for a Prime Minister to be in the position of making such a denial. But not completely without precedent. Watching it, my mind was cast back to 17 November 1973:

In all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life that I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got.

I don’t know how Nixon’s denial was seen at the time, but in retrospect it has become one of the defining moments in his disgrace.

Is Brown’s “never hit anybody in my life” in the same ball park?

Probably not. Guru-Murthy may have inadvertently done Brown a huge favour in asking too strong a question. Andrew Rawnsley’s book doesn’t contain any allegations that Brown “hit” anybody. The nearest is that Brown “roughly shoved” someone aside. While hitting is unambiguous – either you wholly deliberately strike someone with your hand or no such thing happens – what a “rough shove” amounts to is unclear both physically and in terms of intention.

But by airing the notion of Brown’s having hit sometime, Guru-Murthy has drawn attention away from the actual allegations and also made them seem less serious by contrast (Brown also denied any shoving, but that’s barely been noticed).

NB I generally respect Rawnsley’s work, and while his explanation of how he decided whether things he was told were “utterly reliable accounts… from impeccable sources” or not is basically empty, I can quite believe that Brown has a nasty temper on him and that he can be terrible to work for.


Liam Murray said...

I think the public would actually be quite forgiving of a fiery, bullish person as PM. Even one displaying behaviours they wouldn't tolerate in other walks of life.

My issue (I've blogged on this today) is that assuming at least some of these stories are true they're all sparked by personal slights or political matters. If he got aggressive with someone for not taking child poverty seriously enough or understanding some aspect of economic policy then fine. Doing so because Cameron bested you at PMQs just feels silly...

Tom Freeman said...

I agree.

Rawnsley has been saying that his book isn't a hatchet job and that he reports plenty of positive stories about Brown, e.g. handling the financial crisis.

I've reckoned for quite a while that Brown is a better (or less bad, depending on your perspective) PM than he is a party leader. I think it interestingly ties in with this that the things that - allegedly - stress him out the most are political, not governmental.