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4:31pm on Monday, 9th November, 2009:

Unfair Attack


I may not be a fan of Gordon Brown's politics (that whole top-down government thing really grates with chaotic good people like me) but I believe he's a fundamentally decent person.

For example, he writes a personal letter to the family of every member of the services who is killed in Afghanistan by hand; he doesn't have to do this, he could just sign a form letter, but he does do it. I don't believe that this is simply to show that he cares, I believe he genuinely does care. If it were just for show, why would he write it by hand when he could send something more impersonal and just sign it? Especially given that he, like me, has lousy handwriting. In his case, it's a lot to do with his eyesight, rather than not being able to control a pen, but nevertheless I know how hard it is to try write something legibly when it's beyond your power to do so. If he's sending the families of soldiers handwritten notes, it's because he feels it's right to communicate at the personal level, rather than merely putting his name to a letter written by a member of his staff.

Anyway, over the weekend he handwrote a letter to the family of a deceased soldier, in which he appeared to misspell the surname of the dead soldier. Basically, the soldier's surname was Janes and he wrote James. It's an easy mistake to make — you ask a name, and you often hear what you expect to hear. Yes, it's annoying (it certainly annoys me), but it's not as if it's done deliberately. The chances are, it happened well before it got to him, so when he asked the name he was told it was James. Why would he suspect that it wasn't and that some civil servant along the line had repeated it as James instead of Janes?

The mother of the soldier also criticised him for "scribbling" the note, which again I don't believe is deliberate, it's just how he writes. Like me, any handwritten note looks scribbled, no matter how long was spent writing it. If he's sent her an impersonal typewritten message, yes, she'd have been able to read it but it would have given the impression of being cut and pasted. In addition, the name would still probably have been wrong, because the chances are that in the Chinese whispers of getting from the database to Gordon Brown the change from Janes to James had already been made. I realise she's distraught, and I don't blame her at all for getting upset; I do, however, blame The Sun for exploiting her grief to get at Gordon Brown.

Frankly, I think The Sun is out of order criticising the Prime Minister using words such as "shameful" here. It's certainly unfortunate, and I can see how Mr Brown would himself be mortified by what happened, but it wasn't done out of any callousness. Rather, the error crept in precisely because he was trying to conver his condolences in a heartfelt way that wasn't callous.

Bah, newspapers: they criticise politicians for spin, then do exactly the same thing themselves.

Referenced by The Written Word.

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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).