Over the last two days we have had an illustration of how leaders rise and fall by public opinion mediated through powerful pressure groups. The upshot is a process which may be studied to understand how we get ‘the leaders we deserve’
Gordon Brown has been increasingly seen as a leader who has failed to win the approval of the electorate. Within six months the electorate will exercise its democratic right and probably vote for a new government with a different leader. In that sense the voters will appoint the leader they deserve. It might be argued that a private limited company also acquires the leader it deserves through a whole series of decisions by which shares are acquired. At a stretch, the argument could even be extended to hostile takeovers.
Returning to Mr Brown, the current critical incident concerns the death of a serviceman, Guardsman Janes, and a letter written to his mother Jacqui by The Prime Minister. In a short period of time the feelings of the mother were revealed as being amplified by what she regarded as a scribbled and disrespectful note which misspelled her surname. The story (unsurprisingly) became public. The media have enough interest and resources to monitor stories of grieving relatives of military casualties. Mr Brown is cast as a leader going through the motions of sharing a mother’s grief.
Act two: Press interest persists and it becomes public knowledge that Mr Brown is to have a conversation with Mrs Janes.
Act three: the call takes place and is recorded on a Blackberry by a neighbour. The recording finds its way in a rapid timeframe to The Sun newspaper which turns it into a front page exclusive. The interview reveals the hurt of a bereaved mother who also went on to comment on wide issues of political mismanagement of the war. I just heard a snippet which sounded both heart-tugging and at the same time written down and read out.
Not far behind the headlines
Not far behind the headlines can be found the recent stories of Gordon Brown and The Sun newspaper. The declaration by the Sun that the paper was withdrawing its support for Labour at the next election was timed for maximum impact during the Labour Party Conference. That was a month ago. This story has its own ghastly timing after the death of Guardsman Janes.
Leaders We Deserve
Act four: The story gains momentum. An unpopular leader has added to the grief of a mother of a fallen soldier. The Sun has played its rightful role in bringing the story into public view. That’s what happens in a democratic open society. In so doing, the public has extra information regarding the bungling way in which Gordon Brown deals with matters of public concern. But my own suspicion is that The Sun has achieved a short-term win with publicity and sales of the paper. But I also rather think that it will not lead to enough voters switching away from Gordon Brown and his party in six months time. It may even help blunt any future attacks made in the Newspaper against the Government.
Reactions from BBC phone in callers were largely sympathetic both to Mrs Janes and to Gordon Brown, and unsympathetic to The Sun. One thought that occurred to me was how we may also be ensuring that in future the leaders we deserve will rely more on carefully-crafted printed notes under such circumstances. Which would not seem to be a good thing at all.