Gordon Brown dispatched as unfit for purpose

an_honourable_deception.jpgIn its Dispatches program, Channel Four asks ‘Is Gordon Brown fit for purpose?’ The treatment by Peter Oborne purported to be a forensic analysis, demonstrating the dangers that might be brought to the country if Brown becomes the next Prime Minister. We compare the treatment to that offered by Adam Curtis in The Trap.

Channel 4. Last night I switched on a Dispatches program which promised an informed perspective on the Labour party’s leadership. I missed the first few minutes of the broadcast, and found myself watching a somewhat agitated presenter breaking news of some pending disaster. Tone and worlds were slightly less apocalyptic than an Orson Welles announcing that the Martians had landed.

No, I was watching the programme I had tuned in for. Perhaps the title indicated the line it would take: Gordon Brown: Fit for purpose?

Peter Oborne

The intense presenter was celebrated journalist Peter Oborne. His thesis was, essentially, that the country faced the very real prospect of acquiring a pathologically flawed leader. Perhaps the title was a giveaway. It is a fine specimen of its kind. Arresting, disturbing, compelling the would-be viewer to tune in.

Oborne, a favorite target for Private Eye, has in the past produced such pieces for Channel 4 as Why Politicians Can’t Tell The Truth (because they obsessively pander to the floating voter), and for the Evening Standard, Why the US is now our great enemy (because they ignore Global Warming). He has also done a piece on why Alistair Campbell has had a malign impact on politics (a view emotionally put by Michael Howard, face-to-face with Campbell, on Newsnight a few evenings ago). And a piece on why Robert Mugabe is a tyrant and what we should do about it.

The real and present threat

So Peter has a nose for a threat, preferably a big hairy threat of national or global scale. Nor can he be seen as a simplistic ranter. Although there is not much doubt that he does rant. Which makes his apparently rational approach rather interesting. His methodology is that of the scientist in search of the truth. His manner is that of those obsessive individuals whose behaviors frighten him into his own intense responses.

According to Channel Four

Over the last nine months Dispatches has carried out the most in-depth study ever done for television on the Chancellor, interviewing cabinet ministers, MPs, top civil servants, economists, journalists and friends. The programme, presented by Peter Oborne, forensically examines why these claims have been made by some of Gordon Brown’s colleagues


Yes, the ‘evidence’ was presented in an apparently forensic style, assembled into a dossier, a diamond geezer dossier, the very opposite of a dodgy dossier. A hundred interviews were collected and codified in almost a parody of an even-handed style.


At face-value the style insists on the balanced nature of its content. The balance is achieved by collecting lots of ‘evidence’ from interviews with those describing Brown’s inappropriate and dysfunctional behaviors, and from time to time cuts from a fewer number of interviews with another group of people largely lumped together as an inner-circle for whom Gordon can neither speak nor do wrong.

The credibility of these witnesses was reinforced by their lucidity, and restraint. Yes, these were mostly credible statements, honestly reported. So what can be wrong with that? Perhaps, to extend the forensic metaphor, because these were mostly the usual suspects. We could more or less anticipate what Clare Short would say. To present her as a key witness suggested that there was no more balanced view available. Claire offered the comfort of repeating, mutatis mutandis, what she has been saying since her resignation from Government, over the duplicity and ineptness of Tony Blair.

The Trap

The program had something of The Trap about it, another recent and well-crafted polemic disguised as a piece of good old fashioned investigative journalism. But Adam Curtis drew on a richer mix of post-modern devices, and had more layers of ambiguity compelling viewers to stay with it. Oborne, could be accused along with Curtis of indulging in what Guardian critic Oliver Burkeman called conceptual long-jumping.

What about Maggie?

My suspicions had been thoroughly aroused by the time the docu-rant reached an episode in which Gordon Brown was presented as being very brusque and rude at an EEC meeting. It seems that he ignored the views of others and simply repeated his position. This was presented as further evidence of his personality defects and a style which makes him unfit for office.

‘What about Maggie!’ I shouted. But due to the nature of television, Oborne ignored me. And he never made the next step in the argument. Could we take the case of Margaret Thatcher’s dysfuntional style as even more evidence that Gordon just doesn’t have what it takes to be a good political leader? Or am I engaged in a ridiculous piece of conceptual long-jumping?

Smoke and fire

Overall, a profile of Gordon Brown is emerging. He undoubtedly has displayed many of the less pleasant characteristics of powerful leaders in politics, business and sporting domains. If I understand the thesis, Australian commentator Jeff Schindler [aka Jeff Schubert] would have us believe that given more power, Gordon is likely to become more rather than less autocratic. Oborne may have a point. But it is neither new, nor particularly damaging.

I am reminded of something I overheard in a discussion between two colleagues, a few years ago. The one had arrived at the conclusion that Tony Benn was a dangerous and mad politician. He had expressed this to someone with Bennite sympathies.

‘He’s got big staring eyes’ the anti-Benn character asserted. ‘He’s mad, that politician’.
Enraged, his companion found a cutting reply:
‘You’ve got big staring eyes. You are just as mad as he is’

Or, to deploy another bar-room maxim, it takes one to tell one. Which might not be terribly balanced, but still seems somewhat relevant to Oborne’s treatment of Brown’s state of mind.

5 Responses to Gordon Brown dispatched as unfit for purpose

  1. Tudor,
    Given your output you are obviously not the two-fingered typist that I am. I would take half a day to type this article. But Jeff “Schindler”, is that me — or is it a move about Lists!
    Jeff Schubert

  2. Damm, damn, damn! It is “movie”, not “move”? And I am thinking of “Schindler’s List” — which I have never seen, but which has some Australian connection (so I understand).


  3. Tudor says:

    OK. I confess. I meant Jeff Schubert, distinguished Australian commentator. Maybe subconsciously I see his goal of rescuing us from the grip of tyrants. Yes, I’m sure I got mixed up. And its about another composer, not Liszt …(ugh).

    Love to get your take on the Obone performance.


  4. Ian Major Brewster says:

    That you should have to spend a whole paragraph pondering whether this was a balanced documentary or not really misses the blindingly obvious. This programme was presented by Peter Oborne, or Peter O’bore as he’s affectionately known by Private Eye. He’s the most one-eyed biased right-wing Tory journalist out there. A political columnist for the Mail (who have long admitted that their only mission is to get rid of New Labour) and contributing editor to Spectator (flaccid Tory organ), he is clearly unqualified to present any open-muinded, impartial debate on Gordon Brown.

    The whole programme was a predictable waste of time and the conclusions were obvious the moment I saw O’bore’s name.

    On another point, I find it depressingly unedifying to have to continually listen to media pundits obsessing over the cult of personality in politics. When are they going to understand that it’s not important if a politician doesn’t endear himself or herself to everyone? Who cares if they don’t have a winning smile or have moments when they sound like a gruff pragmatist? What matters is policies and delivering social justice. This media fetish with personality reduces our leaders to the role of actors. Is politics just entertainment to them?

    And you’re spot on about Maggie Tudor. But then again I’m sure O’bore would say her complete unwillingness to listen to others demonstrated the iron will of a great leader…

  5. Tudor says:

    There’s an important point, Ian. What to do about the media obsessing? Does it really make a difference?

    And should I have ignored it, and got my head around the bizzare case of the reporter driven mad while working on a study of Scientology (Quos Dius vult perdere …)?

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