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Politics goes round the bend

Is the British Prime Minister unfit for office or is the UK's political and media class unfit for purpose?
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
22 February 2010

Just watched Rawnsley on Newsnight, with John Prescott, Roy Hattersley, David Steel and Daniel Finkelstein. The politicians were just awful, pompous and attempting to be dismissive. "What matters to voters are the issues, not how politicians behave!" Bah. 

Bullygate matters in at least two respects, political and personal. The political question concerns Labour's calculation to play the personality card in the first place. The personal one is whether or not Brown is becoming disqualified from continuing in office

1. It was the Labour spin doctors who decided to play Brown's character card. They put him onto television to talk about the death of his daughter and show what a nice person he is. They decided to project him as the kind of person you would like to know personally and feel good about having as Prime Minister. Perhaps he wanted to be admired in the way that Blair could be. Bad mistake. When Mandelson complains that the story of Brown's bullying is "politics" you have to laugh. What Labour should have done was spin Brown as being worse than he is. "God, he is tough to work for, you certainly don't want him on a personality show!" should have been their line. The Thatcher approach: he is a monster but he's our monster, full of conviction and self-belief would have been a far better approach. The problem with this, however, is the conviction question: Brown's U turn on regulation of the city, his responsibility for the Banking crisis, his dithering and his inability to take decisions.

2. The personal question is not whether Brown has a temper or can be a bully (who hasn't hurled a glass across a room when under stress?). The question is whether or not he is going somewhat mad. Downing Street does this to people. I've written about this issue before. Blair was clearly filled with delusion. Thatcher is said to have gone balmy towards the end, in her "No, No, No" days. In Strange Days Indeed Francis Wheen describes how Sir William Armstrong when head of the civil service in 1974, "stripped off his clothes and lay on the floor, chain-smoking and expostulating widly about the collapse of democracy and the end of the world." The next day, after he told a meeting of the permanent secrataries to "prepare for Armageddon", he was taken off to a mental asylum.

All ended well, however, Wheen observes, "after a decent interval, he became chairman of the Midland Bank." People are human. They can recover from the effect of extreme stress and the delusions of running 'Great Britain'. Delusions that I hinted at in my post on Mandelson's claim that he and Brown are "running the country".

Only last week Brown speaking to the Progressive Governance Conference Brown said:

so here are my proposals;

I believe first of all that we now need nothing short of a world constitution for the global financial system

It must be, to say the least, disturbing, to advocate this without a scintilla of modesty and then find that the papers are asking whether or not you throw staplers at your staff.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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