Poor old Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister of Britain just can’t seem to do anything right. This past week, he did what he always does, which is to hand write a letter of condolence to a bereaved family member. Every time a British soldier dies, Gordon Brown writes a personal letter to the family. But his past week he misspelt the name of the serviceman, calling him Jamie James, instead of Jamie Janes, in a letter to his mother. He had made this same mistake when he had read Jamie’s name in Parliament a s few days earlier.
Mrs Janes was outraged, and took her story to the newspapers (The Sun – the most sensationalist national newspaper available!). She made such a noise about it that Gordon Brown phoned her to chat about it (I do not say “apologise” because he refuses to accept he made a mistake). She then recorded the conversation and provided the recording to The Sun (listen to it here, while watching a video that includes a copy of the letter). Read more about the story here.
In the phone call, Mrs Janes accuses Mr Brown of 25 spelling mistakes in the letter. That doesn’t seem true. To be fair, Mr Brown has horrific handwriting, but it doesn’t seem that he made any mistakes except calling her son Jamies James instead of Jamie James. If you want to know about the story, just Google it. I don’t want to add to the column inches on this story.
For me, this story provides an unsettling parable of modern Britain. A political leader trying to do the right thing just cannot admit he made a mistake, and looks for any possible explanation for what is obvious to everyone else. Just say you’re sorry, and move on. But Gordon Brown – and almost every other British politician – just cannot do that. On any issue. But, then Mrs Janes can’t act completely surprised can she? Is this really the first time her son’s surname has been incorrectly listed as “James”. If your surname is Janes and you name your same James, are you not bringing that on yourself? I do not want to be insensitive to her loss. I served in the forces during a war, and saw more than my fair share of funerals. There is nothing glorious about it at all. But I also can’t believe I am the only one who thinks that this was a very easy error to make. That doesn’t excuse it – Prime Ministers should be more careful (or at least should have aides who are). But, it’s still an easy mistake to make in this case, is it not?
And so the parable also points to a culture that is too easily offended and insulted. People so easily feel their “rights” have been infringed and their sensibilities affronted. This is no way to live. And it’s often done in a “reality TV” way. The role models are hopeless – Jordan and Peter Andre split up and act horrified when their “private lives” are splashed across newspapers. These would be the same newspapers and magazines that they took money from in exchange for opening up their lives to the public. The irony seems lost on them. So, it’s no wonder that the “average” person feels they also have the right to splash their stories across the media. Mrs Janes outrage seems slightly stage managed, and has certainly been gobbled up by the media.
And so the final character in this tragic pantomime is a media that has largely abandoned proper journalism in exchange for the sensational. I have written about this before, especially critical of 24 hour news channels. This story has done nothing to change my mind.
This episode provokes a sense of sadness in me. Yes, I am sad that another young life has been snatched away by a senseless war. But I am more sad that this is possibly a parable of modern Britain. Hopefully this parable will end with some great denouement, as the fools are shown to be foolish, and the good finally prevails.