That Gordon Brown Letter 115

Sometimes you feel compelled to write articles that you realise are going to make you wildly unpopular. I fear this is one of those times.

I don’t wish to fall back into the blogging trap of commenting on the news headlines, but as someone who has no time for New Labour or for the war in Afghanistan, I think the media furore over Gordon Brown and his misspelt letter is entirely unjustified and really very nasty indeed, even by UK media standards.

It is not news that Gordon Brown cannot spell. Given his intelligence, background and rigorous education, he can only have this basic spelling difficulty because of a fundamental problem. Labels don’t especially help, but whether you call him dyslexic or say he just does not have the ability to spell however hard he tries, it comes to the same thing.

That too is not news. This from the Daily Telegraph doctor on 20 April 2009:

It was a bit of a shock to learn the Prime Minister mis-spelt the word “knowledge” (omitting the “d”) in his handwritten apology for those “prank” emails, with their lurid allegations, sent from his office. But close reading of the letter (taking into account his poor handwriting) reveals he also omits the “r” from “understand” and has obvious difficulty with “embarrassment”. These errors could scarcely be attributed to poor teaching as Scottish schools are notorious sticklers for correct spelling, so he must, I presume, have some form of dyslexia.

It has only recently become clear that while spelling (or any other routinely acquired mental attribute ?” reading, talking, elementary maths and so on) might seem quite simple and straightforward, they all involve processes in the brain that defy all imagining. Thus in the twinkling of a second that it takes to hear a word, the brain fragments it into a myriad of its constituent parts with 22 separate areas being involved in the interpretation of sound ?” for example distinguishing between the consonants “p” and “b”.

It is, in short, astonishing we can talk, read, or spell as well as we can. Thus the likelihood that the process might be slightly less than perfect in some ?” with the effect as seen in the PM’s letter ?” is quite high.

Brown has emotions like everyone else. His self-referencing is somewhat worrying. His genuine commitment to the casualties of Afghanistan is fuelled in part by an obsession with courage and overcoming adversity – on which he has terrible ghost-written books in his name and patronises awards – and it is obvious that this is because those are the qualities he believes he possesses personally. Equally his own awful loss of a child plainly has a role in his decision to write to the bereaved military families.

But it remains undeniably attractive in Brown, and a great kindness from an incredibly busy man, to write longhand letters to all the military bereaved families – something Blair nor Thatcher would have ever thought of, and which no other Prime Minister has done. Brown’s obvious difficulty in writing and spelling makes this more endearing, not less. If he had a secretary do it, or dashed them off on a word processor, the spelling would be perfect but surely it would mean much less than a note of real condolence from the Prime Minister direct to the bereaved, not intended for any other eyes?

Which brings me on to more delicate territory. Nothing can be worse than losing a child, and especially in a pointless war. The grief of Jacqui Janes must be dreadful, and convention restrains us from saying anything bad about anybody under the strain of bereavement. If my making unpleasant observations on Jacqui Janes would offend you, I am afraid you should stop reading.

But there was a calculation about her taping of her phone call with Gordon Brown, in cahoots with the Sun newspaper, which goes beyond the perfectly understandable emotional venting of feelings, or an intellectual desire to challege policy.

The fact that she chose to make this calculated move in collaboration with the newspaper which is the most important media propagandist for the war which claimed her son, raises further questions. I do not share the desire to elevate the woman as a hero (unlike for example Old Holborn).

Not everybody who has been bereaved was, is, or will be a saint or even a nice person.

I really am sorry I was forced to say that. But somebody had to.

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115 thoughts on “That Gordon Brown Letter

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  • Anno

    I agree. Undercover taping, or video recording by mobile, peeping into other people’s emails and bugging their mobile phones by individuals is spying. It is horrible and becoming common. Spying by governments is universal, but I for one don’t know how they filter out the useful snippets from trivia mountain. There is safety in numbers from them. Having said that, Gordon Brown spends much too much time listening to his Bilderberg masters and it is very good for him to have to listen to a furious bereaved mum.

  • mike cobley

    Or you could see it as yet another triumph for that bounteous font of malice, the Sun, the nation’s arsehole-in-reverse. If that rag disappeared overnight, I would be out dancing in the street – Murdoch’s vomit-flecked comic is the direct source of more ignorance and twisted bile that almost any other news outlet. Captain Crunch, where are you?

  • Rob

    Well said. Castigating the man for trying to offer a kindness is scraping the bottom of the barrel. For the avoidance of doubt, I think he’s a lousy Prime Minister, but quite frankly any leader embarking upon “foreign adventures” should be forced to write longhand to every bereaved family whose loss he or she incurs. That Brown apparently chose to do so is to his credit.

  • sabretache

    I agree 100%

    I have absolutely no time whatsoever for Brown, NuLab or any of our wars but frankly this whole thing is risible. I could not help clearly showing my disgust at in front of family whilst watching the BBC News (a rare event for me) last night.

    The press are far worse than a pack of hyenas once they sense fading powers in holders of high office positions. There are plenty of issues to have a real go at Brown on. This is emphatically NOT one of them

  • Jon

    I quite agree with your observations about Jacqui Janes, but wonder what it is you believe you’ve said about her that is unpleasant. Co-operating with a “news” organisation that could reasonably share some of the blame for the death of her son seems a very odd move indeed. But then some people unquestioningly view all newspaper corporations as underdogs challenging the powerful, which is a peculiar view, given the counter-evidence.

  • Ed

    Well said.

    However, I am really not inclined to criticise Jacqui Janes, I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a son, but she is being exploited by The Sun. Whatever she feels right now, she is a mother in mourning, and it is not for us to lecture her on how to express her grief

    But the fact The Sun is using her to launch a personal assault on Brown is beyond despicable. They are encouraging her, exploiting her emotional state, to demonise a man they want out of political office. It’s hideous. I think many people were quite moved to learn that Brown writes personally to families, and the spelling/handwriting issues are totally beside the point. The fact he makes a point of writing – and THEN following up in person when he learns that someone wasn’t pleased with the content of a letter – exhibits particular compassion on his part.

    The Sun, in contrast, is exploiting personal tragedy for nakedly populist and commercial aims, it’s pure filth. Someone needs to warn Jacqui Janes that she will be thrown on the dung-heap when The Sun has squeezed what they can out of her tragedy.

  • Fiona C

    What prevents me from seeing the letter-writing as a genuine kindness is: how on earth could anyone with a fully-functioning conscience reconcile offering such personalised condolences with the knowledge that themselves they are fully complicit in these young mens’ needless deaths?

    I instinctively share some of your distaste concerning this incident however: specifically the Sun’s collaboration. That is misguided in the extreme. But on balance to me at least, the bereaved mothers’ actions are still far, far more understandable and forgivable than Brown’s.

  • johnny anomaly

    If you offer condolences to the mother of a man who died because you personally sent him to war under-equipped, you are guilty of gross hypocrisy.

    Further, if you cannot write properly, let alone spell, you have no business expressing your condolences in the form of a handwritten letter.

    I agree that Brown has all sorts of personal problems. He seems to have one for every letter in the alphabet. That is why he he no right to be our unelected PM and deserves everything he gets.

  • kathz

    I feel sorry for both Brown and Jacqui Janes. I’ve noticed that people who are bereaved often do focus on inessentials (like spelling errors) – perhaps because the big grief is too painful to address.

    I gather from some of the radio accounts that the phone conversation addressed other issues, including Jacqui Janes’ anger about supplies and her anxiety about another son in Afghanistan. I don’t know if the taping was premeditated or whether she had the sort of phone where, by hitting a button, you can record a conversation. If all she had to do was hit a button, I can see why she might have done that – I think I would have done so if I were talking to some-one I held responsible for my son’s death, particularly if my aim was to prevent further deaths.

    I think this is a case where it’s possible to feel sympathy and respect for both people.

  • Rob (a different one)

    Agreed. Well said CM.

    This is going to be a very dirty election campaign and honest democracy will be the loser, at first. I hope the tories have got a long spoon because I don’t think any of them have the skills for a stand-up, knock-down fight with the likes of the Sun. They will be helpless pawns, with the Sun crowing in the background that it was they wot won it – again.

  • anticant

    The one thing that won’t go on record is how much the Sun has paid Jacqui Janes for being their patsy in this sordid affair.

  • MJ

    “I really am sorry I was forced to say that”.

    No need to be sorry Craig. Everything you say is spot-on.

  • anno

    Gordon Brown is as bad as The Sun. In fact all politics today is one big media scam. The party conference stated that New Labour’s strategy was to play the underdog. I knew about Brown’s inability to understand figures, but does he want sympathy for his inability to spell too?

    This underdog bit reminds me of your reference to Matthew Hoh’s resignation in Afghanistan. What a media coup. Really nice guy holds out for truth against nasty Pentagon. Then in his interview he spells out the same old Ziospin the US used in Iraq. Really this is just a civil war to which the US is an innocent bystander.

    Lesson 1. There are no nice guys in power.

    Lesson 2. There are no nice policies either.

  • rullko

    Gord will have learned his lesson now, I’m sure: just get an intern to dash off a few mailmerges to bereaved families, like Blair used to.

  • Jives

    The Sun=the dirtiest of the lowest of the vilest SCUM.

    I dont know how that reptile Murdoch sleeps.One day i truly hope he gets a taste of his own medicine.

    The total cunt.

  • Dr Paul

    The whole thing is utterly tawdry. Not just the war in Afghanistan and the government’s lies for getting involved in it; not just the Sun for its use of human grief in its campaign against Brown — although, ironically, they are united in support for this pointless war — but Brown himself for his campaign to whip up support for the war.

    My grandfather’s brother was killed by German action during the First World War. Did the Prime Minister of the day write to the family, in the neat handwriting of the time or even in a quickly dashed-out scrawl a la Brown? Was his body brought back to Britain with a media chorus in tow?

    Of course not. As I pointed out in another post, on average in the First World War some 600 British servicemen were killed each day; just think how long it would have taken Asquith or Lloyd George to read their names out. Still, my grand-dad’s brother did get his name on the local war memorial.

    My father was lucky not to have received a fatal wound when shot whilst confronting the Waffen SS in Holland in 1944. Had the head wound been fatal, would Churchill have read out his name in Parliament? I don’t think so, in the Second World War, British military deaths on average were around 150 each day.

    It is only because the casualties are relatively light that Brown & Co can use each of these deaths as propaganda tools. There will, however, come a time when the general public will become accustomed to these casualties — ‘compassion fatigue’, it is called — and only those immediately affected by military casualties will take notice of them.

    All the parading of the sadness of the families of the dead servicemen, all the heavy media coverage of military funerals, all of Brown’s scrawled messages to the bereaved… none of this exploitation of human grief will save Brown & Co’s sagging reputation or will win public support for their pointless war.

  • tony_opmoc

    I’ve come to the conclusion that democracy is in fact an illusion, and that the vast majority of politicians and prime ministers do what they are told, by the real Powers That Be.

    Despite Gordon Brown’s poor PR skills – compared say to the brilliance of Blair’s, and despite despising almost everything about Nu-Labour, I have always maintained a respect for Gordon Brown’s intellect since he pulled off £22.5Bn from The Telcos for the hot air of 3G, which 8 years later still doesn’t work as well as GSM.

    I now think its entirely possible, that Brown has stopped doing what he is being told to do by the PTB.

    12 Months ago the entire Economic System was supposed to Crash completely, such that Banks would completely stop issuing money. This would cause the most horrendous chaos, and likely cause society to stop functioning completely. If no one can get paid – how will even essential services work?

    Brown threw a spanner in the works of this planned catastrophe, by coming up with a financial fix that even the US had to copy, after first refusing even to meet him. He embarrassed the PTB, by actually doing his job and at least temporarily averting complete disaster.

    Of course he is limited in what he can actually do, because the PTB remain in control of virtually everything – including all the MSM.

    Someone I think here actually suggested a possible solution to save the Labour Party from complete electoral annhilation – which was to switch to become an anti-war party – and immediately withdraw all military forces from Afghanistan.

    That of course would take tremendous courage, but maybe Gordon Brown actually has that courage.

    This would of course completely infuriate the PTB and leave the Tories dumbfounded. It might actually produce a position where there was a recognisable difference between the two main political parties such there was some reason to vote. It could even possibly open a complete and utter can of worms, with all the real truth since 9/11 leaking out and going mainstream.

    Someone’s got to do it, and Brown hasn’t got anything much to lose.

    If they can do that to Gary Glitter, then there are many more in the pipeline who have done far far worse (Channel 4 last night).


  • anno

    All the political parties have got the same software for calculating best voter/policy, electoral performance.

    Unfortunately the VPEP reading for war in the UK is high. Pompo pompompom Pom … Sorry to disappoint you Tony.

    They need another thrashing at home to come to their senses but after three generations people think war is a computer game.

  • Paul Jakma


    My recollection of a BBC news report on this matter is that Brown is following a standing tradition for Prime Ministers to write personally to family members of fallen soldiers. They didn’t say how far back it went, but gave the impression at least a couple of PMs before Brown have also done this.

    ICBW, TCBW, etc.. It would be interesting to hear proof either way.

    I agree completely re the mediocrity of this manufactured controversy btw. It’s quite ridiculous that other news organisations have given it any time.


  • tony_opmoc


    The software, like the drugs, doesn’t work. Pharmaceutical drugs used to be designed to resolve medical problems and cure disease. There were some completely wonderful breakthroughs, which in parallel with improvements in sanitation and environment dramatically reduced disease. Then the pharmaceutical companies realised that there was far more money to be made by drugs that introduced other problems requiring other drugs to resolve these new conditions.

    The same is true of software. 15 years ago commercial software systems were built to be extremely efficient and reliable. Then the major software companies realised, that by producing very reliable systems, that there was no incentive for their customers to replace them. Not only that, but if the system worked incredibly reliably, then the customer would have no need to pay the software suppliers maintenance fees. If something never breaks, then it doesn’t need fixing. The hardware suppliers also realised, that if software was written very efficiently, then there would be no need to provide more and more powerful hardware.

    The same applies to products that could be engineered to last for decades, but are now designed to fail once the guarantee has expired. After a couple of years, the customer throws the product away – and buys a new one.

    All this is a complete waste of resources and is inherently corrupt and destructive to the planet and the human race.

    Such a system would however be entirely appropriate for politicians and those in control of them…

    They have completely failed, and they all need to be replaced with people of integrity who are not only honest, but have the intelligence and determination to work for a just and fair society.

    Currently we are being fast tracked to hell by lunatics who’s only interest is their own selfish ego and power trip. Some of them actually believe their own propaganda and are deliberately trying to crash Western Civilisation resulting in the Genocide of Billions.


  • glenn

    Oddly enough, I was saying much the same to my wife upon hearing – for the second day running – Radio-4’s World at One announce this Brown letter in the world’s top news.

    The BBC are jumping on this just as much as the Sun, and played a good portion of the tape, with that harridan ranting out prepared invective doubtless provided by the Sun.

    She kept referring to “my child” – what was he, a drummer-boy? I thought only adults were allowed in the army. He didn’t die at school, he died fighting a battle. That’s what sometime happens when you are in someone else’s country and they don’t want you there. Did she think he was there on a picnic?

    If becoming a bereaved parent was not something she could possibly bear, why allow him to join the army in the first place? I’m sorry to say it too, but she is obviously getting as much mileage as possible from her own son’s death. I’m sure the other parents all got letters too, they clearly had the grace to accept it in the spirit intended.

    Donald Rumsfeld used an autopen to sign his letters to the bereaved. When challenged, he lied about it. I’m no fan of Brown, but do not need to be one to see this is disgraceful behaviour by the mother, the BBC and needless to say, the Sun.

  • Brendan

    I agree with every word you say and congratulate you on your willingness to put it into print. Some behaviour’s go beyond imagination. If this horrible war continues I do hope that the Prime Minister is not put off from allowing his own humunity to shine through in his personal letters.


  • John

    Well said. Regardless of one’s feelings about Brown (mine are very strongly negative) and the war (ditto), this unpleasantness is completely despicable.

    It does occur to me however that if Brown wasn’t so notoriously nasty to junior staff, and he was more humble, he could get someone to check his letters.

  • sam

    Hmm, Craig, that’s a very interesting take on what’s essentially a non-story.

    The real story is about why this gvt has led us unlawfully into one war after another, isn’t it? This present furore seems to be a large distraction. Why? What else is happening at the moment that we really should be keeping an eye on…?

    I can’t find it in myself to consider Mr Brown’s actions as charitably as you though. This man is part of, arguably, the UK’s most successful ever political spin machine.

    His correspondence, however technically inept, just looks to me like a another page from the ‘caring-man-of-the-people’ chapter of the Nulab spinmeister handbook. Wasn’t Susan Boyle used in the same way?

    If I’m wrong, then I’d be the first to apologise to Mr Brown for misattribution. But we’ve been judging these folks too kindly for 12yrs. Now look where we are. Nulab have taught us how and why we need not to take their words at face value.

    Tony opmoc’s constructions are intriguing: other perspectives which appear more and more feasible as we lurch through the dying days of this debacle gvt. I certainly agree that democracy is an illusion now – just as Mr Brown’s compassion…?

  • Jon

    Glenn, I don’t agree that the woman in question is a “harridan”, nor that she is getting “mileage” from her son’s death.

    The dilemma we have is that not everyone can see when they are being used for cynical purposes, and meanwhile part of her grieving process, perhaps, is to blame Gordon Brown (quite rightly) and then join up with his enemies, whoever they are. Needless to say the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a naive one, but to what degree can we hold someone responsible for their lack of awareness of class and power?

    The blame should lie with the Sun owners, who are well aware that they are manipulating her, and with the PM, for knowing full well he is sitting on an unpopular and illegal disaster, and lurching on regardless.

  • Eric

    My main complaint about Jacqui Janes is that she’s made me sympathize with Brown.

    The behavior of ‘The Sun’ is despicable.


    Just shows why the shrewder politicians keep their distance from the raw human impact of their policies.

    It only takes one grieving parent to floor you.

    Brown did what other PMs have hidden from, and his sense of decency has been thrown back in his face by a grieving parent and the scumfilth that is Murdoch media.

    On a side issue, it’s clear that she had the phone on speakerphone and I’m afraid it sounded as if she was reading items from a prepared script. I suspect The Sun’s drools were sitting at her side. Make no mistake about this. The Sun would be well aware that Brown would phone her personally, after the poor press coverage. He’s done it before. And they were waiting for him!

  • Duncan McFarlane

    I agree Craig – except that i’m not sure it’s fair to say the bereaved mother may not a nice person – she may just be in a lot of pain and have been manipulated by those a**eh*les working for Murdoch.

    I expect this kind of bollocks from The Sun – but the BBC giving it 24 hour coverage for 2 days is ludicrous. There are plenty of serious life-and-death issues around the war in Afghanistan – the PM accidentally mis-spelling a soldier’s name in a letter of condolence is not one of them.

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