Crying is the new smiling for British politicians

Over four million viewers tuned in to watch Gordon Brown pour his heart out to Piers Morgan in a recent television interview. With a general election looming, a personality contest is now underway between the two main party leaders, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

I did not have high expectations to begin with given that Piers Morgan, former editor of the Labour backing Daily Mirror is a close friend of the Browns. However, what was to follow in the painfully cringe worthy one hour broadcast was a waste of what could have been a much deeper insight into, as Morgan put it himself, a “man of mystery to many.”

Brown was not helped by the idiotic questioning by Morgan who asked him at one point “You didn’t join the mile high club, did you?” and described Brown as a “Mick Jaggar…heart-throb” in his youth. At a time when people can’t find a job and our soldiers, some barely turned 18, are being killed in Afghanistan are the British public really interested in whether the Prime Minister has a private lavatory?

Gordon Brown does not come across particularly well in the media spotlight. We only have to recall his infamous appearance on Youtube last year, when he grinned rather manically at the camera at the most inappropriate of moments. Whether one loves or loathes his predecessor Tony Blair, you have got to hand it him; the man was a born showman. Brown however is, as Kim Howells recently told the Boar, “a very different creature from Blair…he’s got strengths which are unique to him”.

In fact, this understated no nonsense approach, in addition to his respect for his family’s privacy, is one of the qualities that I have most admired in Brown before his recent string of publicity stunts, and a quality I have least admired in David Cameron who has consistently paraded his family in front of the camera. We have had enough Alistair Campbell-style spin injected into politics over the past decade without Gordon Brown succumbing to this obsessive culture of personality over policy. Of course it is desirable to have a leader who is charismatic and who displays a strong rapport with the people as the Americans have with President Obama, but this does not call for superficial attempts to connect with the people.

One does have to feel a slight ounce of pity for Brown. He is endlessly criticized on the one hand for being a dour Scotsman, whilst on the other hand having addressed these criticisms through television appearances he is attacked by cynics for being opportunistic. In this instance however there is every reason to be cynical.

The controversy that surrounded this interview was of course around Brown speaking about the death of his baby daughter Jennifer and his young son Fraser who has Cystic Fibrosis. I have always respected his decision to protect his family by keeping his private life, exactly that – private. Less than two years ago Brown attacked politicians such as Cameron by saying “My children aren’t props; they’re people.”

This is highly hypocritical of Brown as he is now doing exactly that. In a recent interview on Scottish television, David Cameron was close to tears as he spoke of the death of his six-year-old son Ivan last year. This is symptomatic of a disturbing trend that is developing whereby the private becomes public with politicians using their innermost tragedies to score cheap electoral points against each other.

Both leaders have had to face what no parent should ever have to deal with; the death of a child. I doubt that anyone is belittling the grief that they have both suffered. However, to appear on national television in the run up to the election and use this grief as a means of gaining sympathy from voters is truly demeaning.

Perhaps both leaders should take note of the dignity of some of the families who have lost their children in Iraq and Afghanistan before using their private tragedies for personal gain.

Gordon Brown once declared that he was “a serious man for serious times”. His recent use of the media coverage to win votes after so previously lambasting others for doing so quite frankly reeks of a desperate man in desperate times.


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