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Sticks and stones can harm your poll ratings
February 22, 2010 1:18 AM   Subscribe

The Observer publish an excerpt of Andrew Rawnsley's new book, in which he alleges that Gordon Brown has been aggressive and volatile in power. Immediately up pops a representative of an organisation called the National Bullying Helpline, which says it has received calls from "inside Downing Street", garnering TV news appearances. However, is the NBH all that it seems?

Anti-Tory bloggers point out that the Charity is run by a woman married to the director of a private company that deals with the same issue, the implication being that it was set up to fish for customers of that company; A blog has been online for a while alleging that the company is more interested in siding with the companies against the complainants.

It's all quite mad.

[editorializing]I find it quite depressing that the next government of my country can't even run a smear campaign competently. I worry what will happen when they get their hands on the economy.[/editorializing]
posted by Grangousier (40 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, it's always all about you Americans, innit?
posted by koeselitz at 1:32 AM on February 22, 2010


Anyway, The Thick Of It seems more and more realistic, worryingly.
posted by koeselitz at 1:33 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


You guys are aware that there is a general election on and all of the parties are hurling astonishing shitballs at each other in the press, that they have been saving them up, and none of them are particularly true?
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:54 AM on February 22, 2010


I find it quite depressing that the next government of my country can't even run a smear campaign competently. I worry what will happen when they get their hands on the economy.

I'm not too much into "big P" politics, and neither am I scandalized by the allegations against Gordon Brown. However, it's interesting that this story is being steered around and having its focussed changed. It's no longer about Brown, but now about the National Bullying Helpline.
posted by Sova at 1:58 AM on February 22, 2010


the next government of my country can't even run a smear campaign
Don't worry - it'll be a hung parliament and the knives will be out for Cameron before the new election so they can get David Davis in.
posted by Abiezer at 2:06 AM on February 22, 2010


However, it's interesting that this story is being steered around and having its focussed changed. It's no longer about Brown, but now about the National Bullying Helpline.

Reminds me of the first episode of Party Animals, in which an attack on the efficacy of a youth rehabilitation scheme is defused by turning on the criminal histories of the youths involved.

Good show, that.
posted by robcorr at 2:08 AM on February 22, 2010


For me, this fails as swiftboating because it doesn't go after Brown in the right way. A lot of the most visible issues in this election – handling the economy, dealing with the banks, guarding against unemployment – rely on an image of strong leadership. Bullying, however bad it is for the culture of government and morale in the civil service, at least looks forceful.

When Brown's popularity took a nosedive in 2007, it wasn't because he was seen as a psychopath; it was because he wavered over a snap election, projected an image of incompetence and had to back down when his bluff was called. That's where the Tories could really be putting the knife in. This bullying angle, like the "Stalin" stories prior to his ascension to No. 10 and the constant insinuations of control-freakery, doesn't hurt him as much as the John Major-esque "bungler" label could.

No one wants to work for a bully and I'm sure this story plays well in the Westminster village, but when it comes to the national public's perception, I think there will be a strand of quiet approval for someone who's angry enough to throw the book (in this case, literally) at his colleagues in government and the civil service. The public is frustrated with politics and so, according to these stories, is Gordon Brown.
posted by him at 2:08 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


And that anti-bullying campaign - I'm not a UKian (heh) so I don't know exactly, but I remember Charlie Brooker on Newswipe going on about that. Something about some band chosen as spokemen, and then they got caught out in a complaint for sending bullying texts?

Eh. Y'all are much better at bullying than we are. We just shake with impotent rage in such situations. Makes me despair of our famed American exceptionalism - seems there's nothing we're better at anymore.

Grangousier: “... the next government of my country can't even run a smear campaign competently.”

Ah, there we go. Now I feel all patriotic again. Go American exceptionalism!
posted by koeselitz at 2:17 AM on February 22, 2010


The British love to elect bastards to rule them, so if anything this will work in Brown's favour.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 2:20 AM on February 22, 2010


LEAVE THE NATIONAL BULLYING HELPLINE ALONE!
posted by davemee at 2:21 AM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I agree him; why I think a hung parliament is likely is because at the same time the Brown is actually managing to appear more likeable, you've got the Tories reverting to type despite Cameron's previous efforts at touchy-feely. One example is this farcical proposal to sell thegovernments' shares in the banks - let's turn the bailout into a bonus for those with the cash lying around to invest! Seems to me the election will largely revolve around whether Labour can get enough of its vote out despite the fuck-ups and disappointments of the past decade and more, and stunts like that reminding us why the Tories might actually be worse are another own goal from them; meanwhile the Labour polling figures keep creeping up.
posted by Abiezer at 2:23 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, one big cultural difference (if I'm not mistaken) seems to be the general UK disdain for any current regime. The hatred of Brown, the hatred of Blair (well, okay) et cetera is distinctly unlike the USian way. Over here, ruling parties get very upset if they're not loved by at least 40% of the population. And we seem happily willing to take their stupid side. Bush was a real exception, and I get the feeling over here what most USians really disdain about him was that he managed to be so unpopular. If we'd had Tony Blair, there would've been people everywhere still talking about how really wonderful and brilliant he was. Whereas if any of our prominent politicians, Bush, Gore, Kerry, McCain, etc - with the possible exception of Obama - had been in Gordon Brown's shoes, they'd have been crying their eyes out on the steps of no. 10 by now.
posted by koeselitz at 2:30 AM on February 22, 2010


Henry C. Mabuse: “The British love to elect bastards to rule them, so if anything this will work in Brown's favour.”

I wonder. David Cameron has a distinct edge on him in that department.
posted by koeselitz at 2:32 AM on February 22, 2010


I'm not so sure this will be as harmless to Brown as some suggest. Yes, voters already know Brown is a bit of a dour, unhappy fellow, but you can be dour and unhappy while still being a generally nice guy. In fact, I think Brown's general unlikeability gives him the sympathy vote ("Oh, poor Brown, everyone hates him but at least he's working really hard.")

Unfortunately if you're viewed as a bully who screams at people and pushes them around, any vestiges of sympathy towards you immediately vanish, and so I think this will certainly knock a few percentage points off Brown, spin or no spin.
posted by adrianhon at 2:37 AM on February 22, 2010


Why the hell were the BBC repeating the 'calls from inside No. 10' line? Are they stupid, complicit or both?
posted by asok at 2:54 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have to say that I love the the tory response to Labour's poll tenacity is a fantastically Marie Antoinettish "Let them buy shares".
posted by srboisvert at 3:05 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree him; why I think a hung parliament is likely is because at the same time the Brown is actually managing to appear more likeable, you've got the Tories reverting to type despite Cameron's previous efforts at touchy-feely.

At this point, I'm kind of holding out for a hung parliament – a situation where both Labour and the Tories are courting the Lib Dems for support could result in some positive government in spite of the austerity one-upsmanship going on at the moment. The Lib Dems apparently have a shopping list of policies including increased education funding and more redistributive taxes which they'd seek support for in return for either a coalition or specific vote-by-vote loyalty to whatever minority government ends up in semi-power.
posted by him at 3:15 AM on February 22, 2010


Why the hell were the BBC repeating the 'calls from inside No. 10' line? Are they stupid, complicit or both?

Sadly the BBC rarely rises above the quality of the tabloids these days. With a few notable exceptions, they don't seem to engage in much actual journalism; they just follow the well-established trend of repeating both sides of any alleged 'argument' without any thogut as to the credibility of either side. As a result they're as easily manipulated as most of the other British media.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:34 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


The calls are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!
posted by ZsigE at 3:41 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


So when Blair referred to Brown's great clunking fist, it wasn't just a strange figure of speech.
posted by Phanx at 3:43 AM on February 22, 2010


Henry C. Mabuse: “The British love to elect bastards to rule them, so if anything this will work in Brown's favour.”

I wonder. David Cameron has a distinct edge on him in that department.


Yes, but Cameron isn't human. If you look carefully you can see the valve on the back of his neck where they pug in the foot pump.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:44 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really think the bastard/strong leader/angry man thing washes, really.

For one thing, Brown has no right to be angry. He represents the government that's been doing whatever it wants for years. Moreover, he became Prime Minister without even having to go through a general election. If there's something he doesn't like, he has by now no right to hold anyone but himself responsible.

Second; if he were facing down the civil service or ministers in public, he might get some credit; he's not; he's venting his petty egotistical upsets on some innocent, intimidated typist. Allegedly.
posted by Phanx at 4:04 AM on February 22, 2010


Ah, Phanx, but that's a rational reading of the situation, not just a low, intuitive feeling about some hazy notion of "character". If elections were decided on rational grounds, who knows where we'd end up?
posted by him at 4:13 AM on February 22, 2010


This doesn't work in his favour at all. The press rumours about Brown have implied that he was prone to depression and mental instability and that this was the reason for his indecisiveness.
If people thought that he was just spineless then this would help him, but they thought he was mental, so this just makes him look even worse.
posted by atrazine at 4:45 AM on February 22, 2010


The British love to elect bastards to rule them, so if anything this will work in Brown's favour.

I don't think this is true. Thatcher aside, very few post-war prime ministers fit the "bastard" mould. Even Blair, although he was a git, wanted to be liked, so he was unable to be a real bastard. He left the bastardry to Alastair Campbell.
posted by WPW at 4:48 AM on February 22, 2010


Funny thing is, I'd still rather vote for paranoid, short-tempered maniac than David Cameron.
posted by Acey at 4:50 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


For one thing, Brown has no right to be angry.

Since when has any public figure let the perception that he or she has no "right" to be angry get in the way of his or her doing (or not doing) anything?

The British love to elect bastards to rule them, so if anything this will work in Brown's favour.

How nice to believe that the British have this particular market cornered.

This bullying angle, like the "Stalin" stories prior to his ascension to No. 10 and the constant insinuations of control-freakery, doesn't hurt him as much as the John Major-esque "bungler" label could.

Yeah, I agree -- doesn't seem like Cameron is doing much but wasting time and resources going at Brown using this angle (when there are other angles that could be used with seemingly greater success, all of which Cameron has already tried, and none of which has dealt a fatal blow to Brown yet). I've heard the rumors about Brown's temper tantrums since he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. As the Guardian wrote this morning, "Inside Downing Street there is a belief that the storm will last 24 hours, and since few voters are going to back Brown on the basis that he is more likeable than David Cameron little has been lost. One source even went so far as to say: 'Even if all this rubbish were true, would it be that awful? We all know he is a bit grumpy.' "
posted by blucevalo at 5:12 AM on February 22, 2010


Why the hell were the BBC repeating the 'calls from inside No. 10' line? Are they stupid, complicit or both?

The BBC has been edging closer to the Tories for some time now. I guess that there are several reasons:

a) Rancour. This a pretty general feeling about New Labour in Britain these days, but I can imagine that it may be particularly prevalent in Broadcasting House after the savaging they got from Blair's spin doctors during the whole sorry affair of the WMDs.

b) Populism. Those same spin-doctors urged the BBC to "listen to its audience". Problem is, the kind of audience that makes its voice heard through letters and nowadays the Internet is, well, rather cranky. The Beeb's "Have Your Say" fora are a cesspool, and their average contributor could even make a hardened American Birther or Teabagger cringe.

c) Self-preservation. The Tories never hid their dislike of the BBC, and Rupert Murdoch would love to see it go. Since there's been an obvious understanding between Cameron and Murdoch since at least last year, it's normal that the least srupulous managers and journalists in the Beeb, who already see axes falling, try to coddle up to their future overlords. Especially since the most likely alternative, a Lib-Lab cabinet, is unlikely to have the same sort of bite.

Apart from all that, one must also consider that the Tories' PR machine, which used to be a complete shambles, has become quite a sharp dagger these days, whereas the Labour families have been too busy briefing against each other to take much notice of the looming threat.
posted by Skeptic at 5:13 AM on February 22, 2010


Daily Mail editorial, Leaders and Wimps:
But amid the mounting hysteria over the Prime Minister's alleged bullying and temper tantrums we would ask if the chattering classes and the BBC have lost their sense of perspective.

Is there any head of a vast corporation faced with the kind of problems Mr Brown has to deal with who couldn't be accused of occasionally losing his temper and shouting at subordinates?

Of course no-one condones bullying. But Mr Brown is running a country facing awesome problems, not running a youth club.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:51 AM on February 22, 2010


Christine Pratt said, on BBC Radio this morning, that Gordon Brown was not being accused of bullying but that there were concerns about bullying being raised in his office. Big difference.
posted by i_cola at 7:10 AM on February 22, 2010


He left the bastardry to Alastair Campbell
Who now frequently appears on TV clutching a box of Kleenex and being soooo upset and sensitive...

This bullying angle, like the "Stalin" stories prior to his ascension to No. 10 and the constant insinuations of control-freakery, doesn't hurt him as much as the John Major-esque "bungler" label could
Agreed - but would add that it doesn't hurt as much as the self-seeking, oily, please-elect-me-I'm-honestly-not-that-much-of-a-c*nt, second-hand Rolls-Royce salesman label.
posted by MajorDundee at 7:23 AM on February 22, 2010


Looks like Ann Widdecombe is having second thoughts about her patronage of the charity.
posted by nangua at 9:53 AM on February 22, 2010


You guys are aware that there is a general election on and all of the parties are hurling astonishing shitballs at each other in the press, that they have been saving them up, and none of them are particularly true?

Notable though that this comes from Rawnsley and the Observer.
posted by bonaldi at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2010


Notable though that this comes from Rawnsley and the Observer.

Indeed, but isn't this a case of the usual internecine Labour warfare, rather than Rawnsley and the Obs. going Tory? That said, given the paper's increasingly rightward shift in some areas over the past decade – most notably that duplicitous shitbag Nick Cohen – I would be less than surprised if it was the latter.

Either way, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing unravels over the next couple of days; the charity's patrons are resigning at the rate of one every 12 hours – Sarah Cawood (no political colossus she, but still a public figure attached to them) went this afternoon, according to PM on Radio 4 – and regardless of Brown's faults, of which there are undoubtedly many, from the stories I've heard, the whole thing is starting to look like a terribly organised Swiftboating venture.

And it's interesting that the Mail is backing Brown. I mean, that might be because Paul Dacre is a bully legendary for calling his underlings "utter fucking cunts" to their faces (there's been more than one out-of-court unemployment settlement on that matter) and thus sympathises. But in the usual scheme of things this would be absolutely key Daily Mail territory to launch an attack on a failing PM. Of course, Dacre and Brown are fast friends, but bearing in mind that Dacre is a coldly calculating motherfucker, if Gordon is on the way out, what does he have to lose by sticking the shank in, particularly since he could easily convert his paper to Tory-lite within two shakes of a lamb's arse? I suspect the Mail (or Dacre, anyway) are hedging on the hung parliament factor. (And I agree with what him and Abiezer said up above; interesting times, and all that.)

The question is: are the Observer and the Grauniad playing the same hung parliament game? I mean, it's obvious that the latter does not want a Tory government, but neither, it's clear, would they be totally happy with Labour. And given that these days, The Observer is essentially the withered-arm supplement to the Guardian – and bearing in mind that Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is also ultimately overseeing the Observer, and has been doing his best to kill it off for the past two years – are they mounting some sort of rearguard "fuck Brown" campaign which they can palm off on John Mulholland if it doesn't work? In other words, if the Tories win, Mulholland fucked up by going to harsh on Brown. If it's a hung parliament, the glorious Harry Potter lookalike Rusbridger takes all the credit?

Be interested to know yer thoughts ...
posted by Len at 3:15 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Indeed, but isn't this a case of the usual internecine Labour warfare, rather than Rawnsley and the Obs. going Tory?
I've read that Rawnsley was a particularly keen Blairite so is probably not averse to sticking it to his long-time rival. Can't recall myself what his attitude was when that was a live battle as I'm only an occasional reader of his output (not madly interested in the inside Westminster end of politics that is his stock in trade) but fits with the little I do dimly remember.
posted by Abiezer at 6:00 PM on February 22, 2010


At this point, I'm kind of holding out for a hung parliament – a situation where both Labour and the Tories are courting the Lib Dems for support could result in some positive government in spite of the austerity one-upsmanship going on at the moment.

This is beyond pathetic. For years and years we've had folks in the U.S. screaming for "more than two parties!", and whenever I hear that, I think about the Lib Dems. Fat lot of good that did. It's still been Labor and the Conservatives all the way from day one. The Lib Dems have been born crippled and ineffectual from day one, and never ever shown any signs of actual life. I'm old enough to remember the high hopes associated with their grand entrance. Since then, they've managed to do exactly nothing. At any point, no matter how dire and critical - for example, what did they do when Blair prat fell into Iraq? It's not like the Conservatives would oppose any move to the right by Labor, and the "New Labor" has been steadily moving right. So where's the natural opposition? It seems it's the same dynamic as here in the U.S. - the Democrats move right, and the Republicans are so far right they are pressed against the wall. And there's nobody to move back the shifting "center". Hence the dream about a "third party". But what's the reality? The Lib Dems have been utterly useless. So what is this new hope for a hung parliament and a rescue courtesy of the Lib Dems? I predict more of the same: zero impact. They should dissolve already since all they are are a distraction.
posted by VikingSword at 6:27 PM on February 22, 2010


VikingSword: It's still been Labor and the Conservatives all the way from day one

Yeah, except it totally hasn't. In fact, if you want to talk about third parties, it's Labour who are (or at least were) the third party, given that they didn't get substantial Parliamentary representation until the 1920s. Up until that point, the two major parties in the UK were the Tories and the Liberals (who grew out of the Whigs). Prior to the development of a party who, at that point, were truly dedicated to representing the working class in Parliament, the two leading parties were – various cultural differences aside – much more like the Republicans and the Democrats in the US. Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, wasn't elected until 1924, and even then that was only for nine months (though he was PM again, in 1929, until 1935). Since the end of WWII, the UK has essentially been a two party state, with Labour and the Conservatives switching power.

Yes, the modern LibDems are a kind of hodgepodge of former Liberals, breakaway SDP types who followed the so-called 1979 Gang Of Four in defecting from Labour, and a host of others, but because of the way the Parliamentary system works, the nominal party of government has, many times since WWII, had to collaborate with whatever the current form of the Liberal party was in order to enact the legislation it wanted to pass, because it didn't have the requisite majority of votes to do it on its own. The last hung parliament after a general election in the UK was in 1974; more recently than that, there have been hung parliaments following by-elections (Callaghan's government in 1978, and Major's in 1996).

All in – regardless of the success or not of the LibDems – this is not a two-party system. Not least because the SNP (Scottish National Party), Plaid Cymru (the Welsh National Party), the DUP (Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party), and Sinn Fein (Northern Irish Republican party*) all have Parliamentary seats, and have, at various times – especially the Northern Irish Unionists, when the Tories have been in power with slim majorities – helped out the governmental party.


they've managed to do exactly nothing. At any point, no matter how dire and critical - for example, what did they do when Blair prat fell into Iraq?
Um, I'm pretty sure that almost all of them – along with a large chunk of Labour MPs – voted against the war.


*Sinn Fein refuse to sit in Parliament because it requires swearing an oath to the Monrachy, but they are MPs nonetheless.
posted by Len at 7:24 PM on February 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


It seems obvious now that the NBH and Pratt aren't associated with any party. I think she's just a stupid nasty piece of work who would have been found out sooner or later. I think this story is just a haphazard attempt to get publicity at a time when her charity is failing.

The thing that interests me about this is that the bullying charges feed against the "political correctness gone mad" crowd. It's hard enough for the Mail to get away with the Immigrant Hugging, ZaNuLab stuff, but now they've got to do it against a backdrop of "Hug a Hoodie, Call me Dave" vs a Prime Minister who's pretty angry and old school.

If Labour are careful, they can spin this against Cameron. I'm suprised that he hasn't seen this and is carefully distancing himself from the story. Mind you - I'm also suprised that he seems to have been moving the party from a party of change back to that party you hated in 1997. They seem to be fucking this election up royally.
posted by seanyboy at 11:11 PM on February 22, 2010


As a Guardian reader I can't think of a better outcome than a hung parliament and the death of the Observer.
posted by ninebelow at 2:59 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Latest polls have Labour still creeping up and closing gap on Tories; seems Gordon's got away with it.
posted by Abiezer at 2:59 AM on February 24, 2010


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