Thursday, November 27, 2008

A curious statement from Gordon Brown

Hat Tip to Guido for the piccie

I don't often read Conservative Home , it's a bit right wing for a Tory like me, but this article is just exactly what I am thinking about the Damian Green affair.

According to Sky, the word from Downing Street is this:

"This is a matter for the police...The Prime Minister had no prior knowledge of the arrest of Mr Green and was only informed after the event."

Two classic Brownisms here. First, the washing of one's hands of any involvement in a controversy if it seems that negative publicity might result, by saying it is in the hands of an outside quango/ agency/ the courts/ investigation/ report/ independent adjudicator/ study, etc (delete as appropriate). In this case, it is the police.

The second is this - there is a denial of involvement, but the denial relates only to a specific part of the chain of events, in this case, the actual arrest of Damian Green. There is no denial that the PM knew of the investigation or knew that a senior Conservative was allegedly involved. Important questions like whether the PM or other senior ministers gave a go ahead for action are not covered in the statement.

For the sake of our democracy, I would love to be proven wrong, and be shown that the PM genuinely knew nothing about the police action against Damian Green.

Let me give you just one recent example of how Brown's careful use of language can give rise to a misleading impression. At PMQs, the day after Barack Obama was elected, most MPs were given the impression that the PM had telephoned Obama and congratulated him. I spoke with a top newspaper political correspondent who was certain this was the case. This is what Brown actually said:

"Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere congratulations to Senator Barack Obama on winning the presidency of the United States and writing a new chapter in history in doing so. The bonds that unite the United States and the UK are vital to our prosperity and security and I know from talking to Senator Obama that he will be a true friend of Britain. The Government look forward to working with the new Administration as we both help people fairly through the downturn. I also want to pay tribute to Senator McCain, who has shown the characteristic dignity that has marked a lifetime of service to his country."

At the time, it sounded to most people that the "talking" he referred to was very recent - indeed, that is what is implied by using the present continuous tense, rather than saying "when I talked with Obama". In reality, Brown didn't speak with Obama for some time after, and was upstaged by Nicolas Sarkozy, much to our PM's chagrin.

The point is merely this - it is too early to tell what Brown knew or didn't, but experience shows one needs to study his words very carefully indeed before reaching any conclusions.

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator writes
Part of me hopes there is more to Green’s arrest than this. I don’t want to think I live in a country where anyone, far less opposition politicians, can get banged up for scrutinising the government in this way. And what will the public think tomorrow morning: “naughty Mr Green” or “what kind of police state is this?” No wonder No10 is stressing that Gordon Brown had “no prior knowledge” of what looks like calamitously heavy-handed policing. This could end up being a disaster for him.
Couldn't agree more.

CentreRight: A curious statement from Gordon Brown about the Damian Green affair


Matt Wardman said...

My Brown Nose notes the lack of a denial the Jacqui Smith knew about it.

Bill said...

When you say is a little too right-wing for your tastes, I couldn't agree more! I left the Conservative Party in disgust immediately after one of Tim Montgomerie's heroes (Iain Duncan Smith) became the Leader.

Incidentally, when Tim first wrote about the Damian Green arrest his quite lenghty article (since heavily amended to remove his initial knee-jerk reaction) ended up by saying that he thought that Damian Green might have to resign from the opposiition front bench. Authoritarians intent on political and social control exist on both sides of the political divide and Tim very definitely represents a very unpleasant aspect of Conservatism, just as a number of people in the current Labour government (and former members of it) represent the main current danger to our liberties because they are the ones currently in power. Jacqui Smith's recent contributions to the debate are highly worrying; I will be very interested to hear what she has to say about the Damian Green incident. The only Labour spokesperson I have heard breaking cover so far is Phil Woolas on the Today programme this morning and his main concern seemed to be to distance himself and Ministers from this arrest, whilst trying to insinuate there is more to it, because he knows how toxic this is likely to be. The fact that London Mayor Boris Johnson was told before the arrest that it was about to happen, and registered his objection, makes it very difficult to believe that the Home Secretary was nott apprised of it too.