Andy McSmith's Diary: At least Gordon Brown’s more popular with the press than Jean-Claude Juncker
An appearance by Gordon Brown in the House of Commons press gallery on Monday was an event. Any sighting of the former Prime Minister is an event, because he rarely darkens Parliament’s door these days – so rarely that he opened with a joke about needing a guided tour of the building.
As the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, he has made just one speech on the floor of the Commons this year. Although the press gallery was a friendly enough affair on the surface, the truth is that Brown does not much care for journalists. “If I said I had the worst press relations of anyone in Britain, I suppose Jean-Claude Juncker would raise an objection,” he claimed. He was joking, sort of.
Shamed but not named
An example of Gordon Brown’s elephantine memory is the tale he told about an incident known in Westminster mythology as the “Ship of Shame”, and which inspired the thriller The Madness of July, by the BBC Radio 4 presenter James Naughtie. It is a misnomer, because nothing untoward happened on the “ship”– a boat hired by John Prescott for Labour Party members to celebrate the end of the parliamentary year. I know, because I was a passenger. However, after disembarking, some of the revellers continued partying on the Commons terrace, where one MP behaved obnoxiously, and a woman was sick over the parapet into the Thames.
“She was a BBC reporter,” Brown told the hacks. “I knew that because my younger brother was there and, because he was spotted, people thought it was me. For days I was pursued by the Sun, the News of the World and all the other newspapers, holed up in my house in Edinburgh, trying to deny that I was the MP responsible.”
Of the errant MP, he added: “I’ll name him afterwards, if you want me to. He’s now in the House of Lords. That’s the reward you get.”
Better than being a sheep
Charlotte Leslie, one of the youngest of the new batch of Tory MPs, has set her sights on the recently vacated chairmanship of the Commons Health Committee. She must think it would be more fulfilling than life on the back benches, which she described so succinctly in a BBC interview: “They scrape you off the tarmac, pick you up and dump you in the mincemeat machine of Parliament. Sometimes you feel like a sheep going through a sheep dip, and you want to say ‘Baa!’ as you go through the lobby. You don’t feel much more than a bit of lobby fodder.”
No rush to judgement
As the Anglican Church agonised over the issue of gay marriage, one of the more thoughtful contributions came from the Bishop of Bath and Wells: “If we believe it is not appropriate to talk about ‘marriage’ in relation to same-sex couples, then what are we going to say? We need to contribute something constructive to the discussion.”
That was the outgoing Bishop, the Rt Rev Peter Price, in March 2012. Two-and-a-quarter years later, the West Country diocese has a new bishop, the Rt Rev Peter Hancock, who has given his first interview in that capacity to Bristol Radio.
“Marriage is, if I might quote the prayer book, a gift of God in creation and a means of His grace, and a holy mystery by which man and woman become one flesh,” he said. “Now the Government have redefined marriage in a different way and therefore the Church has to think about how it responds.”
Not much evidence of “something constructive” there, then.
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