Monday, 9 November 2009

Brown's problem in a nutshell.

A story on the BBC News website really sums up the Prime Minister's problems. He handwrites person letters of condolence to relatives of servicemen and women who had died in Afghanistan or Iraq. This is undoubtedly a good thing for a PM to be doing in a limited war. Yet in the case of Jamie Janes, from the Grenadier Guards, the 'scrawled' letter misspelled many words including, unbelievably, the serviceman's name.

The original Sun article has more information, including the spelling mistakes that the PM made, and the poor quality of the handwriting. Misspelling 'colleagues' and 'condolences' in such a letter is not helpful.

This is, of course, a total non-story. The PM having poor handwriting is no problem - I can guarantee that it is not as bad as mine, and he is blind in one eye. Deliberately spelling a serviceman's name incorrectly would be political suicide. In short, I have no doubt that the spelling mistakes were just that - mistakes.

Yet these mistakes have become the number-three story on the BBC news website. If this had happened to Blair, or even Brown two years ago, it would scarcely have registered. Brown has lost all of his political capital. Like sharks circling an injured swimmer, the media sense blood. The story fits in with people's perception of our PM; uncaring (especially about our forces), messy, troubled, and mistake-ridden.

Jamie Jane's mother has a reason to feel aggrieved; she has just lost a son. But this is really a non-story. As much as I dislike Brown (and believe me, I do), I do not think that this was in any way deliberate. It does, however, detail the largest political problem that faces both him and his party. People are ready to jump on any mistake he makes, whether large or small.

My wife came up with an interesting (and, with hindsight, obvious) point that is more worrying: why is no-one in Number 10 checking these letters before they are sent out? Jamie's mother has evidently been upset by the letter; why was it not checked? All of this could have been avoided by just a few minutes work.

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