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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  • Duncan McFarlane

    Bubba wrote “They were watching their arses. He wasn’t! Clearly he’s not quite as calculating as some would have us believe”

    Or else he’s just as calculating as the rest, but much worse at judging what will and won’t be popular, as e.g the Gurkhas pensions scenario and his scrapping of his a 10p tax rate he introduced show.

    This is still the same man who voted for the Iraq war and said as Chancellor that he would spend “whatever it takes” on it, mostly so he could become the next Prime Minister when Blair retired, while simultaneously having his supporters brief people that Iraq was all Blair’s fault and nothing to do with him.

    Of course it was to do with him. He could have resigned like Cook or Short did – and he’d probably have brought Blair down and been the next Labour leader anyway, but he either didnt have the guts for that or else his “moral compass” is wildly wrong as Blair’s.

    If he had real principles he’d have resigned over PFIs or Iraq and rid us of Blair years ago.

    Do i think he’s less bad than Blair? Yes, but that’s relative and despite his intelligence and a few positive moves his flaw is that he put his ambition to be Prime Minister above other peoples’ interests and lives – and became like the Blairites and Thatcherites by playing their game instead of ending it.

  • Chris

    Short comment. Totally right, it’s a tawdry affair whipped up against a man who may not be the best PM we’ve ever had, but who is gentle, understanding, has suffered, and who takes trouble. The mother should look to her motives which come across as VERY suspect.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    And i have to agree with Ruth and Glenn – there hasn’t been one necessary war fought in self-defence or that prevented genocide or massacres ordered by any British government since 1945.

    There have been a hell of a lot of war crimes ordered and carried out though and a hell of a lot of civilian “collateral damage”, torture and soldiers and civilians alike dying for the interests of a small minority who already have far more than they could ever need.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Glenn wrote “She played a role as if Brown had personally murdered her son with his own hands. Anyone joining the army knows being killed, whether in glorious battle or dying like a dog for no reason, might well be part of the job.”

    He is responsible for her son’s death. Keeping troops in Afghanistan isnt keeping us safer any more than having them in Iraq was – and Brown is responsible for keeping them there.

    Also soldiers sign up to defend their country – they (and their parents) have the right to expect that they won’t be sent into a war that doesnt need fought, a war that’s neither defending Britain nor preventing genocide or massacres that would kill more people than the war would.

    So really this mother has every right to blame Gordon Brown for her son’s death, even if The Sun is exploiting her, even if it is a gutter rag.

    The attacks on Brown’s spelling are ridiculous and typical Murdoch opportunism now he’s backing the Conservatives again – but he can’t escape responsibility for keeping troops killing and dying in wars that dont need to be fought.

  • Subrosa

    Glenn, I never mentioned anything about uniform.

    It is no assumption that some military families have been quietly living in fear of a knock on the door anytime of day or night for years now. This mother, it seems, was distressed because she had been told there was no helicopter available to evacuate her son quickly. Unfortunately, we behave differently in highly emotional situations and therefore shouldn’t criticise others.

    I have no intention of articulating my military understanding to you. It would be a wasted effort I can see.

    How many military sign up because they can’t get a job anywhere. Give me a link for that.

    While you’re at it check out how many military have good/excellent university degrees, Masters degrees, PhDs.

    I was talking generally about the military protecting these islands for many generations. If you’d bothered to visit my blog you would know full well that I consider the Iraq and now the Afghanistan very ill-planned conflicts. We invaded these two countries with no strategy or planning and we sadly will not succeed.

    The invaded will remember though and we shall pay in years to come.

    These two particular wars have done nothing to protect our streets – exactly the opposite.

    I have to agree, WW2 was a war worth fighting. I was too young to take part.

  • Chas

    “Given his intelligence, background and rigorous education…”

    Please explain this to me. What intelligence? I see absolutely no evidence of any intelligence whatsoever. Brown has no political nous at all, and no other obvious intelligence. And what of his background and education? He is the son of an undistinguished church minister who went to a mediocre university a year earlier than his peers. So what? Please show me one clever thing that Gordon Brown has ever done. Sure, he has shown massive amounts of guile and low cunning, but so does a fox.

    I will tell you the only clever thing that Gordon Brown has ever done is to persuade stupid people that he is clever.

  • glenn

    Duncan – you are right. Brown is hugely responsible for this death, but had he not, a Cameron, a Miliband etc. etc. would have eagerly taken his place. Brown is not the problem, and placing this 2-day news cycle on his head when semi-blindness, tiredness or dyslexia actually causes his handwriting lackings is entirely beside the point. That is exactly why we are having a personality bash about Brown, instead of wondering why we are fighting people – in their own country – who have been beating off invaders for hundreds of years.

    Brown’s failure is to actually have had a conscience about that over which he has no real choice, instead of breezing past it “in- the most sincerely way – a Prime Minister – could -possibly understand the grieving of a newly bereaved mother – while – humbly appreciating what he has done for us – and making all our lives more secure” … as Blair would have waffled on, with 100% less sincerity.

    But about the “soldiers sign up to defend their country” … come on. We’ve been waging a war of choice, occupying a relatively harmless country ever since a highly dubious attack by still uncaptured “terrorists” since late 2001. Any fool could see we invaded Iraq for no moral reason, and any hapless enlisters in the army have had more that 6 years to get out since even then. Nobody, or their mother, could think there was any reason to sign up as if our nation needed / might need defending. The destination of any army volunteer was to go to the middle east, has has been obvious for any “child” born since 1978.

    We are not allowed to seriously question whether these brave people have actually been killed in a pointless war. We should be condemning the media for not educating us, and a general stupidity and ignorance in the general population.

  • Rob Lewis

    I really should write this as my own story, but I hate dealing with newspaper editors and I have a couple of other projects on hand right now anyway so I won’t get round to it. In short:

    The Sun didn’t record the story. Help for Heroes did. The Sun is a key supporter of Help for Heroes, and Help for Heroes was the party that hooked Jacqui Janes up with The Sun.

    Please also note that Jacqui Janes and the PM mention helicopters, and that one of the trustees of Help for Heroes is a senior vice president of Agusta Westland, which makes the Merlins mentioned in the phone call. While Help for Heroes has been tremendously successful at charity fund-raising, it has now received some serious support from Agusta Westland, Dell Defence and Security, and Hesco Bastion, to name just a few partners in the military industrial sphere.

    Despite what I’m sure are good intentions, politics, PR and corporate profit appear to have crept in to H4H (which has been so successful it now has more money than it knows what to do with – although doubtless every last penny be put to good use soon enough).

    This would always have been a danger, even if the majority of trustees and former trustees weren’t officer class Conservatives (including Sir Richard Dannatt). The founder, Bryn Parry, is actually good friends with the current Tory whip.

  • Matt Wardman

    Agree with everything you say Craig, though I’ve refused to criticise either Mr Brown or Mrs Janes. In my view this is just beyond politics, and I admire Mr Brown for taking the time.


    Mr Brown and Mr Cameron have both lost children in the last few years.

    Mrs Thatcher started the tradition of personal letters during the Falklands conflict, I believe, and it has continued. There was a feature in one paper this week.

  • Savonarola


    I think Mrs Janes real rage lies in her conviction that her son’s death was avoidable. And that his death is a direct consequence of Brown’s itense dislike of the armed services and Blair which led to underfunding going back to his time at Treasury.

    The letter lit the fuse but Brown’s complicity in lack of helicopters was the gunpowder.

  • Scary Biscuits

    Craig, I understand your reasoning but I think it IS wrong for you to criticise Janes’s motives. In fact, I think it is a regrettable degradation in our political debate that we criticise anybody’s motives. This seems to be a paricular problem on the left, although not restricted to it. Instead I think we should strive to return to the English Englightenment idea that two men can honourably disagree. That is, your opinion on this matter reflects merely on your intellect, not your morals. That is why I am taking the trouble to respond.

    If we also assume that Brown’s intensions were pure, as I think they were, then we have to ask what should he have done to have better communicated this? In this it is worth remembering that he is not, as you assert, the first PM to write such letters. That was Mrs Thatcher’s innovation. Alas too many of the great lady’s ideas have been copied by Labour, including bad ones and ones that were good at the time but inappropriate now. (It was also her idea to fly the coffins back home. In the Falklans, which only lasted 100 days, this worked well. In a more drawn out war it is a weekly PR gift to the enemy.)

    Brown should have the courage to break with Thatcher’s methods and choose a way of showing compassion that suits him and the current conflict, not her. If he cannot spell or write (and presumably knows this) he should have the letters typed and top and tail them. Alternatively, he could make use of modern technology and record an oral or even visual message. He could ask the MoD to put together a personal montage of information remembering the mother’s son. And I’m sure that Brown could think of other ideas too. What he should not be doing is thinking that his genuine disabilities or real pressures of office excuse him from the human rules of politeness.

  • HM

    I was surprised to read the PM was writing personally to all bereaved families (an admirable action), and even more surprised to hear that he was being criticised for this. However, I was NOT surprised to hear that the Sun was behind it all. Seems nothing has changed since 1982, when they fabricated an interview with the widow of Sergeant McKay, killed in the Falklands. The misery of war is just a throwaway readership booster for The Sun. They really are beneath contempt.

  • salmondnet

    I have some sympathy for Brown in this matter, but your attack on Mrs Janes is, essentially, pants. Her rebuke to the Prime Minister over equipment was obviously sincere, unscripted and understandably passionate. It deserved to be in the public domain.

    For myself, I would happily settle for a Prime Minister who never wrote letters to the families of casualties and never diverted the tone of PMQ’s with tributes to them, but who maintained our armed forces in adequate numbers, properly trained and equiped for the tasks laid apon them by Parliament.

    Oh – and it does not much bother me that the PM can’t spell. What really concerns me is that he does not seem to be able to manage arithmetic either.

  • MS

    Duncan McFarlane

    For the record(and off-topic,sorry Craig):your percentage count on the Brazilian society is far off,I’m afraid.I get your point,but as a Brazilian born and raised middle class in S.Paulo,there are many more shades of gray to be mentioned.The problem is that only films like City of God make it to Europe…

    Myself,I would have picked a country like Somalia as an example.

  • anno


    Would this war be better if it had been well-conceived and well-planned? The military of every nation are subject to its leadership’s political will, which is itself subject to international pressure. The military, however clever they may be, are obedient to their political masters.

    The mother of a victim of a stupid war has a right to challenge Brown, but the military don’t. If you want to criticise our political leaders, please first unsign your unquestioning loyalty to their incredible stupidity.

    You want to have your cake and eat it like Brown. He wants to lead this country into a monstrous act of aggression AND simultaneously counsel the bereaved.

    Faced with the West’s hunger for colonial theft of oil and power in far away lands, Al-Qaida made certain demands about the West’s refusal to engage with Islam and its determination to blacken Islam’s name at every opportunity. The establishment refuses to drop its anti-Islam position. Ergo war. The military has the privelege of being absolved from bothering its head about why?

    In my view, Craig and the army of savvy bloggers who admire him are on my side of this ideological divide because they are people of conscience. Unlike the military, they are qualified by their freedom of allegiance, to criticise the politicians and enter politics themselves. For myself, I would like this country to embrace the truth of Islam and paste it into the British way of life. The UK became a special place because we threw out the mumbo-jumbo of the accepted religious tradition and in every house people read the Bible and implemented it in their daily lives. The sense of justice we feel, derives from the teachings of the prophet ‘Jesus’ peace be upon him. But when another book comes along, confirming the truth of what we knew before, our politicians are determined to smear it and attack it at vast and unnecessary expense. They are idiots, and I have the right to say it and you don’t.

  • Neil Craig

    I suspect thje taping was the sun’s idea not hers (though she clearly went along with it). The Sun’s enthusiasm for going OTT in its newfound opposition to Labour is distateful.

  • Jon


    > I have no intention of articulating my military

    > understanding to you. It would be a wasted

    > effort I can see.

    I really think you *should* ‘articulate your military understanding’, as the alternative would serve as a device to avoid the contradiction between your support for the military and the harmful effects of the wars they help prosecute.

    As glenn points out, insisting that civians stay out of the debate is akin to asking people to keep their irritating democratic opinions to themselves. It is much in the same vein as the Republican cry of “once the troops are in battle, you should give them unequivocal support” in the US, regardless of the nature of the war crimes being carried out.

    > How many military sign up because they can’t

    > get a job anywhere.

    Are you genuinely unaware that people join the military because of limited work opportunities at home? This is not new news. Admittedly it’s an American example but this was examined in Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’, and I’d be surprised if the decline of the mining and car manufacturing industries in the UK didn’t have the same effect.

    > We invaded these two countries with no strategy or planning

    Perhaps, but that’s looking at the speck in the eye rather than the log, isn’t it? What about the stream of substantial lies that got us into Iraq in the first place? What about international law, and putting Blair and his ilk on trial for crimes against humanity? How about the war crimes carried out in these invasions – the white phosphorus, and the torture, and the shooting of civilians?

  • Walter Wall

    I wonder of Guardsman Janes killed any Afghans whilst on duty. I wonder if anyone has written to their parents. I wonder if anyone has asked Ms. Janes the simple question – ‘He was 16 when he signed up meaning that parental consent was required. We you aware of the risks when you let him join the army?’

  • anticant

    anno, I would prefer Muslims to embrace the British way of life and to paste its tolerance into Islam.

  • Frugal Dougal

    Well said. If there’s a lesson in all of this, it’s directed at the Conservative Party – don’t jump to the Sun’s tune, especially as the next General Election will be won by a unique coalition of Web2.0 and shoe-leather.

  • Afrique


    if you had tolerance you wouldn’t have invaded muslim countries. If you had tolerance, your media wouldn’t have branded the christian young lady who converted to Islam as “brain washed” (Last week media). You pretend you have tolerance, in fact you don’t have it. When i say you i mean likes of you, not those like Craig Murray.

  • Jon

    @anno, your point about oil and colonialism is well made. But you should know that it is distinctly irritating to hear that we should embrace the “truth” of Islam.

    It is fine for you to accept Islam, and I reluctantly support religious freedom despite the damage that all creeds do the people of the world. But it is not fine for you to insist to everyone that your preferred faith-based belief system is the “truth”. You might well feel as I do if I suggested that you should “embrace the truth of Scientology, and paste it into your life”.

  • Jon

    @Afrique – you’re new here, aren’t you? As far as I know anticant hasn’t invaded any Muslim countries, and I also am under the impression that he doesn’t own any media outlets at all, so “his” media have not been branding anyone at all.

    Perhaps he can correct me on these points! :o)

  • tony_opmoc


    Whilst I agree with you, and think all religions are highly destructive, I think it is reasonable to point out, that anything associated with the Word MUSLIM has been demonised across the Western World. This is mass propaganda of a similar kind to that meted out to Jews in Nazi Germany and beyond. The target is now Muslims – and it is so entrenched that even intelligent people enter a kind of brain trance when the word is used, such that rational objective thought and analysis is suspended.

    I give as an example – the following. Virtually no one that I am aware of has questioned the sequence of events as reported in the US Mainstream Media

    According to Reports- a Major in the US army – gets out of bed at 6:00 am – and goes to his local convienience store for coffee and hash browns – dressed like Osama Bin Laden after having his beard and head shaved…

    He then goes back to the army base, takes off his Arab gear, puts on his US Army uniform, and takes two of his own hand guns to work as a Psychiatrist. Apparently – he has never been deployed – he’s never seen Active Service?…

    He then fires his two handguns (from wiki) “an FN Five-seven semi-automatic pistol and a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver at soldiers processing through cubicles in the center and on a crowd gathered 30 minutes before a scheduled college graduation ceremony in a nearby theater”

    And Kills 13 Soldiers and Injures Another 30….

    The Army Base does nothing except order a “lockdown”

    An off duty female cop hears the news on her radio while she is taking her car to the garage to get fixed.

    She drives to the army base instead.

    The army let her in – despite the lockdown – and she heroic like takes out the lone gunman.

    Can anyone rational actually believe this to be true???

    Don’t American Soldiers find this story so Deeply Offensive??? They do NOTHING??? – and leave it For a GIRL COP – not even a Soldier????

    Comments appreciated with regards to the technical aspects of killing and wounding a total of 43 Soldiers and One Female Cop at a US Army base with the two handguns specified.

    A machine gun, I could believe – but even in a school playground the surviving kids would likely have rushed him, before he had a chance to reload his revolver – which I assume takes around 6 bullets.

    How come no one seems to be questioning this – and believes all this nonsense just because the word MUSLIM has been used?

    Has everyone gone NUTS?


  • anticant

    Afrique, “I” have not invaded any Muslim countries, and anyone who reads what I write here and elsewhere knows very well that I think both Iraq and Afghanistan are disastrous and wicked follies on the part of the West.

    But I AM intolerant of nonsense, and include all irrational religious beliefs in that. However – unlike inhabitants of Muslim-ruled countries – I am thankfully free to say so, and also glad to live in a country where you, the young lady you mention, and anybody else can believe whatever they like as long as they don’t try to impose it on me and others who disagree with them.

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