Sunday, February 21, 2010

Character Matters

The most reported aspects of Andrew Rawnsley's revelations - because the most vivid and extraordinary - are those which detail Gordon Brown's notoriously bad temper (or 'passion' as Lord Mandelson would have it). Some of these incidents have been whispered in Westminster and on blogs for some time, but Rawnsley gathers them all together in one place, and the effect is pretty devastating. Our prime minister is a man who will hurl abuse at aides, punch furniture, throw things, physically shift a secretary from her seat because she's not typing fast enough, pepper the back of his car seat with black marker pen marks stabbed out in anger, grab aides by the lapels and generate such tirades of abuse that people are afraid to work for him.

This is grist to the media mill, but the question arises as to whether, apart from the love of the sensational, all of this really matters? Well, Rawnsley rightly defends his publication of such material, which some may consider gossip, by referring to the issue of character. Gordon Brown is keen to talk about character. He once authored a book called "Profiles in Courage", testament to his admiration of particular character traits. Rawnsley says that Brown is hoist here by his own self-references:

Gordon Brown himself has made an issue of his character. He has repeatedly asked for votes as a personal endorsement on the grounds that he is the right leader for the hour. At the 2007 Labour conference, just before his early honeymoon imploded in the debacle of the phantom election, he was marketed under the slogan:
"Not flash – just Gordon." At the 2008 conference, held in the midst of the meltdown in the financial markets, he told the country that it was "no time for a novice", again making his own character the defining issue.

His recent appearance on ITV's Life Stories, where he made an uncomfortable attempt to engage in what he had previously disdained as "the politics of celebrity", was a conscious effort by Number 10 to project his personality in a way that might make it more appealing to voters.

"I know that I'm not perfect," he told a pre-election rally in Coventry yesterday. "But I know where I come from. I know what I stand for" – asking to be re-elected for his values. Having himself elevated character as an issue, the voters have the right to be acquainted with every dimension of that character.

So character matters, and yes we do have a right to know what sort of man is governing us. We can draw our own conclusions about its importance when we vote.

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