Welcome Iain Dale readers
A good piece in the Guardian by Simon Jenkins on the wider politics of all this.
Max Atkinson suggests (see Comments below) that the Sun‘s use of this story is ‘fishy’. So what if it is? Labour have enjoyed the Sun’s vivid support for many years. When you ride a tiger – or a shark – it’s excellent until you fall off.
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Craig Murray gives an eloquent defence of Gordon Brown’s letter to Jacqi Janes, citing the Prime Minister’s eyesight difficulties to argue that his gesture of writing such handwritten letters to bereaved military families is all the more impressive:
But it remains undeniably attractive in Brown, and a great kindness from an incredibly busy man, to write longhand letters to all the military bereaved families – something Blair nor Thatcher would have ever thought of, and which no other Prime Minister has done.
Brown’s obvious difficulty in writing and spelling makes this more endearing, not less. If he had a secretary do it, or dashed them off on a word processor, the spelling would be perfect but surely it would mean much less than a note of real condolence from the Prime Minister direct to the bereaved, not intended for any other eyes?
Craig then rather spoils the case by describing Jacqi Janes as ‘calculating’ in the way she has made this letter public:
The fact that she chose to make this calculated move in collaboration with the newspaper which is the most important media propagandist for the war which claimed her son, raises further questions…
Let’s put to one side that issue, and the inevitable Murrayesque swipe at what ‘Blair’ and ‘Thatcher’ might or might not have done – none of us including Craig have the faintest idea whether they wrote such personal letters, or otherwise passed on private words of condolence to people in comparable circumstances.
I agree with him that it is good of Gordon Brown to write such letters. But I disagree that the way he did it in this case was appropriate.
The hard fact of the matter is that members of the public expect their leaders to operate to impeccable standards of courtesy and accuracy.
The letter sent by Gordon Brown alas was so riddled with errors that it was bound to fail to achieve the intended result, namely to give comfort to the person receiving it. It failed by some way the Simple Dignity test.
A Prime Minister can not have it both ways.
Either s/he comes clean with the public about a significant personal disability and describes in detail what arrangements will be put in place to make sure that top-level work is nonetheless produced.
Or s/he decides to keep it mainly quiet and make arrangements to ensure that it has no operational impact.
The correct course of action in this case, I submit, was for the Prime Minister to dictate a personal letter and add a few words in manuscript at the bottom for an extra private touch, with his PA checking that those words were not mis-written before sealing the envelope.
That would have given the family concerned something they could take pride in and keep as a treasure for future generations. Not the scrappy and almost incoherent text they received.
Technique. It’s all about technique.
See also the ghastly performance by President Obama in his first public words on the Fort Hood massacre.
The point of all these messages, public and private, written and oral, is that they have to be crafted for the recipients, not for the person issuing them.