The Sketch: He's forgotten the first rule of leadership: indifference

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The Independent Online

They have strong stomachs in the lobby. I'm not sure I can go through another one of those press conferences.

"I am a shy person," the Prime Minister said, and more than one of us had to look away. Shy. He's shy. It was still all about the letter. He came in wearing a black tie. He was in mourning. He sounded as though he had a cold but it was just his mourning voice. He mourned all through his opening remarks even though half of them were about "moving away from targets" in the NHS.

The only time he became properly animated was when the subject of David Cameron or the Glasgow by-election came up – then he was recognisably himself.

The letter. He's hand written 200+ of these letters of condolence. Allies say this particular one was redeemed by its sincerity. No, no, no. In The Sun, Ms Janes nailed the particular kind of apology politicians do. "He said sorry 16 times but never apologised once." There were also the words "cumfort" and "cuntry" and her son's first name spelt "Janie".

But the lack of genuine feeling in the letter was evident – whatever feelings he may have had writing it. He wrote of Guardsman Janes and "... the huge contribution he made to the security of our country". The boy made a huge sacrifice. He was part of a huge effort to protect our security. To say he made a huge contribution to national security has no comfort in it because it isn't true.

Gordon kept on saying these things that weren't true. Why? To show he is a man of feeling. "The whole country feels a sense of loss when any soldier is killed or wounded." No, it doesn't. The whole country barely registers it. More people can name the horse wounded in Hyde Park nearly 30 years ago than can name a soldier killed three months ago in Afghanistan. That's an experiment you can try at home. But he wouldn't leave it alone even when he could. One of the hacks asked him about the 72,000 people on the Downing Street site who'd petitioned him to resign. He replied that he was a parent as well. He knew how long it takes to handle grief. "I do feel the pain of people who are grieving."

And, "I have to do my best to comfort the bereaved." But he doesn't. It's a mistake. Worse than a mistake – it's a daft conflation of public and private. It leads, for instance, to a sudden promise to rush 20 new helicopters into service. Is that what drives policy now? Prime ministerial embarrassment?

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, I think, was asked what the most important quality was for a national premier. He said: "Indifference".