This is our truth, tell us yours
Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian, wants Gordon Brown to help Labour win the next election by talking about what happened when he was Prime Minister.
Typically, I want Gordon to talk about what happened, not just when he was Prime Minister, but what happened before he became PM.
I have good reasons for this. Despite being reviled by many for his behaviour and conduct in office, I have had experience of Gordon that leads me to believe that he was a thoroughly decent man, even if he was as unbearable to work for as many people have described.
I base that view on encounters with Gordon, including meeting him in one of those awful conference hotels when he had his child with him. He carried the baby with a calm and loving style that was authentic and natural – he didn’t look, as so many of us do when we’re new parents, like he was juggling an unexploded device, but like a man who was completely at home with the role of loving, caring father.
Those who know Gordon say that that perception is congruent with a decent, kindly man whose politics and commitment to social justice have a strong moral base. That of course makes his reported behaviour as Prime Minister even more incongruous, and helps explain the public perception of Brown as inauthentic.
One of the insights that guides me at work is that the organisational culture of the workplace and industry shapes the way people do their jobs. One of the worst kept secrets of the Blair era of course was that Blair did his bullying by proxy, but he was part of a political culture that was comfortable with bullying and its euphemistic counterpart, news management. If you believe, as I do, that the Blair government also indulged in bullying, albeit by proxy, then the Brown era can’t be dismissed as an aberration or an outlier. The next question though is whether the problem is just a Labour Party problem.
The crucial reality is that Labour didn’t invent bullying, or news management, or the idea of controlling the narrative agenda. Each of them had existed on their own, but the key point at which they came together was the Reagan election of 1979. Margaret Thatcher won power without apeing all the narrative tricks of Reagan rightly hailed as the great storyteller, but she adopted those tricks and their reliance on simplistic binary oppositions once she was in power and had absorbed the lessons.
Tony Blair, of course, learned from Thatcher and Reagan. So did Bill Clinton. So too have Cameron and Brown. So too have the electorate who vote in smaller and smaller numbers as they realise that politicians have become more and more obsessed with narrative control and bullying their critics, and less and less concerned with debate or policy development.
The dominant dissenting narrative about politicians is that they are inauthentic and self-serving. Yet they attract great loyalty from group of individuals who believe them to be decent, honest and committed to higher principles. The rational explanation is that the dominant form of discourse, the relentless quest for narrative control and news management turns decent men and women into bullies.
An honest account of himself from Gordon Brown, about how political practice made him act against his principles, and turned a decent man into a bully, would serve us much better than a narrow account of how the loss of control of the narrative led to a situation where the government of the day claims as a success the fact that it’s finally got growth back to half of where it was when Labour were evicted from power in 2010. In the process of that more honest discussion about how the current system deforms individual’s behaviour we might re-engage the population who no longer believe that politicians are authentic and trustworthy.