It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Everyone’s surprised that Gordon Brown will reportedly cry on TV, yet New Labourites have been blubbing publicly for years.
In 1997, New Labour grooved into power with its apparatchiks boogying on down to ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ by D:Ream. With a General Election fast approaching, the New Labour project knows its psychodisco is almost at an end and is now making its slow dance to quite a different tune: ‘It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.’
To quote Alastair Campbell: ‘I’ve been through a lot on this… I’m a bit upset.’
For 13 long years the British public has had to put up with politicians laying bare their personal sob stories. Say what you like about the Tory years but at least Nicholas Soames didn’t want you to know that having sex with him was ‘like having a wardrobe fall on you with the key still in it’ (as one of his ex-girlfriends claimed). Key members of the Labour project have been obsessed with laying bare their innermost secrets – from David Blunkett’s penchant for pencil-snapping to John Prescott’s ‘allergy’ to digestive biscuits – to the extent that it seems only natural that we’re finally here: Gordon Brown weeping before Piers Morgan over the death of his daughter, Jennifer, and Alastair Campbell welling up in front of Andrew Marr over the hounding of his old boss, Tony Blair.
Although it is impossible to criticise a man for crying over the death of a daughter (Jennifer died from a brain haemorrhage, at 10 days of age, in 2002), the one admirable thing about Brown thus far has been his refusal to talk about his private emotions in public. That he was prepped for the interview with Morgan (in front of whom everyone cries, from Jordan to Dannii Minogue) by Alastair Campbell, has led many to speculate that the old spin-master is pioneering a new approach in making Labour hardmen look soft.
But this completely ignores the fact that they’ve all been at it for years.
John Prescott – in name deputy PM, in practice Tony Blair’s pet northerner – long ago tried to ‘connect’ with people and generate much-needed media sympathy following his affair with Tracy Temple by revealing in an autobiography that he suffered from bulimia. This disease had such an impact on him, he did not appear to lose any weight – although he claimed all the vomit acid made him look ‘jowly’ in photos.
Power cracks you up, absolute power cracks you up absolutely. The proof is in David Blunkett whose reign as home secretary involved ordering the prison service to send in the army to ‘machine gun’ rioting inmates at Lincoln prison. That the Home Office had to have an internal debate as to how to ‘handle David’ (when David personally believed himself to be in control) only leads one to ponder the sort of worries gripping Whitehall during the time that Blunkett believed himself to be going ‘mad’ at the Department for Work and Pensions (see Politics as therapy, by Emily Hill).
Yes, Labour was always a few screws short of a cabinet: manned by Blair, a prime minister seemingly in the grip of a religious mania, and Campbell, a communications chief who once responded to criticism of election posters by the BBC with messages along the lines of ‘Posters done by tbwa according to polotical (sic) brief. Now f*** off and cover something important you t***s!’
But until now at least Brown and Campbell did it behind closed doors. In government, it’s tantalising to think that Campbell ran around like The Thick Of It‘s Malcolm Tucker screaming at people and punching aides but we don’t know for certain because he didn’t tend to make an exhibition of himself on live television.
And we knew precious little about Brown, too. Whereas Tony and Cherie let us know everything (right down to why Cherie left her ‘contraceptive equipment’ at home when the pair slept under the Queen’s roof at chilly Balmoral), we know blessedly little about the Browns, besides the PM’s dubious claims to be a fan of The X-Factor and pop band the Arctic Monkeys. But just this week, even before the Morgan interview airs on ITV1 on Sunday, we’ve had Gordon’s eating habits rammed down our throats. (Sarah’s made him give up Kit Kats and switch to bananas – sparking a national to debate as to how many bananas are too many bananas. Gordon eats nine a day.)
There are also rumours that the PM never sleeps. And though he was once said to possess the sex appeal of Heathcliff (yet another dubious statement) it appears he’s more akin to the romantic hero in the violent tics department: it is claimed he kicked over a desk when told that the Revenue & Customs had lost a disc containing half the nation’s bank details, that he is abusive to his secretaries, and has gone through several mobile phones by hurling them against the wall.
Journalist Bruce Anderson revealed that on one occasion Brown, convinced that Dominic Grieve, the Tory shadow home secretary, ‘had made such a strong attack on 42-day detention as to impugn his commitment to national security’, refused to take the word of his advisers that no such quote existed and ‘stationed himself at a terminal. For the next four hours, he sat there unavailingly, emanating gloom and rage.’
At least an on-air temper tantrum might have been novel. The crying game has been played out again and again throughout New Labour’s history, sometimes over silly things and sometimes over serious things. And, in Gordon’s case, it’s too late for tears now.
So long Labour, it’s been emotional.
Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.
Previously on spiked
Emily Hill was surprised by John Prescott’s outbreak of emotional bulimia. Sean Collins enjoyed a survey of the personalities behind the US presidential race. Brendan O’Neill looked at the psycho-politics of the collapsing British elite and saw in ‘smeargate’, the institutional erosion of the political class. Tim Black noted that when appearance is everything, even drinking champagne can become a political scandal. Or read more at spiked issue British politics.
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