My my, what an engrossing run up to the election this is proving to be.
Andrew Rawnsley, erudite journalist, author and The Observer’s Chief Political Commentator is to publish his new book, The End of the Party on 1st March. As expected, the allegations painting Gordon Brown as a violent bully have made big news. Let’s track the timeline of events which culminated in this latest mishap for the Prime Minister:
31st January: Simon Walters, Mail on Sunday Political Editor, reports that Rawnsley’s book makes allegations that Brown physically attacked members of his staff.
Rawnsley’s publishers were sure that this was leaked to the Mail by No.10, in order to weaken the impact of the story. It’s apparent that Downing Street has been preparing itself for weeks in anticipation of the book’s release.
20th February: Brown appears on Channel 4 News, telling them “I have never hit anyone in my life”.
21st February: Brown gives an interview to the Independent on Sunday, talking about his own personality traits, and the importance of standing up for what he believes in.
This is interesting timing by Brown. Only the week before he’d conducted a Piers Morgan interview, which for all intents and purposes, was an attempt to present himself as a likeable and trustworthy man. The Observer had been advertising it’s new look format with the promise of “extracts from Andrew Rawnsley’s new book”. Furthermore, Rawnsley never made the allegation that Brown hit anybody. Clearly alarm bells the size of the budget deficit were ringing at No.10.
21st February: The Observer publishes the first extract of the book, with more to be serialised over the coming weeks. The Labour Party is described as being a hotch-potch of opinions and agendas over whether Brown should seek a mandate in the form of a snap election in 2007. Brown is described as grabbing his Deputy Chief of Staff, Gavin Kelly, by his suit lapels and shouting “they’re out to get me!”.
Also released was a brilliantly melodramatic animation by Taiwanese TV, which portrays the PM as a Jason Bourne-esque tough guy:
22nd February: Peter Mandelson defends Brown’s character, saying: “No one tolerates bullying in this government or in any part of this government. Period. Full stop. That’s it. If you think we’re going to spend our time chasing around newspapers that want a splash on their front pages, let me tell you: we’ve got better things to do with our lives.”
All very well, but if the government aren’t concerned, why the constant vehement denials and continued appraisals of Brown’s behaviour?
22nd February: Rawnsley appears on Newsnight to defend his book. Facing criticism from many party members and an incredulous Paxman, he nonetheless sticks by his allegations. He names one source as “24 Carat”, and points out the three different denials of truth by No. 10 in 48 hours as a mark of how panicked they are. This edition was also notable for Paxman uttering the F-Word, (albeit whilst quoting).
If Mandelson stands by his line that the Government has “better things to do”, then why the constant media appearances? Three separate denials, along with a television and newspaper interview in a mere two days shows a No. 10 that is more shaken than it’d like us to believe.
25th February: New allegations come to light regarding the relationship between Brown and Blair, as well as Alistair Darling. David Cameron accused the PM of being “at war” with his Chancellor, to much schoolboy laugher in the Commons. Also revealed was another disclosure from the book, alleging that during their final confrontation as Blair stepped down, Brown repeatedly shouted “You ruined my life!”
25th February: Andrew Rawnsley appears on The Guardian’s Politics podcast, arguing that “the public feel more interested and refreshed when politicians are open”.
26th February: Rawnsley’s publishers, Viking, announce they’ve upped the initial print run from 18,000 to 26,000 copies. A minor point perhaps, but clearly blanket press coverage has provided an opportunity for publishers to cash in on a book which previously only garnered interest in political and media circles.
All this is very gripping, and high drama indeed. Those who wrote off this election as a grindingly slow, insipid process have been proved wrong. Despite all this, polls show that the Conservatives only lead by 7 points in the polls, their lowest point in over two years.
I’ll update this entry as new aspects introduce themselves, possibly with a comment piece once the whole thing has come to a conclusion.