The Sketch: Labour's former leader follows his successor's lead

Simon Carr
Thursday 14 July 2011 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


This "victory for Parliament" depends on cross-party agreement, Ed Miliband said. He wanted unity of purpose and mutual support in order to speak to Murdoch with one voice. A slightly surly solidarity settled on the House.

And then Gordon Brown rose to speak. The former prime minister was in the House, clutching himself and rocking in that old familiar way. What would he tell us about his experiences with News International? The inevitable compromises prime ministers had to make; how you have to dance with the devil, and what you have to do to lead, or guide the dance?

You might say the cross-party agreement just became two cross parties – but that's far too understated.

Within minutes, the former prime minister had electrified the Commons. Graham Stuart actually had smoke rising from the back of his collar. The Speaker was shaking, the air was crackling, the Labour benches were hopping with anger, the Tories were bopping, everyone was shouting at each other – yelling, snarling, shaking their fists, jabbing furious fingers across the chamber. The ability of the man to create common purpose is legendary.

Let me precis his speech. Essentially, he spent 13 years in government fighting for the public interest against News international. He simply would not allow this criminal conspiracy from the sewers of journalism to dominate the British media scene by exploiting the voiceless and the vulnerable. The relationship was never cosy, never comfortable – far from it. His fight on the public's behalf took courage, but he was always up to it.

This version of events is not without its critics. And when Tories stood up to intervene, Mr Brown declined to allow them until he had laid out his evidence showing how the Tories cravenly rolled over and begged every time News International whistled. Hence the noise.

It must be noted he made no reference to his front page contretemps with The Sun. Remember, The Sun, he claimed, had published the news of his damaged son and that had made the family cry.

Tories feel Mr Brown isn't always an entirely reliable witness. Their attempts to intervene therefore became more determined, and his great booming voice denied them. The noise rose, Labour backbenchers barked and grimaced "Siddown!" as Tories jeered at him.

The madness was exhilarating. At one point a friend swears he heard Brown say "when office was thrust upon me!" Imagine the delusional background to such a remark. The madness was contagious. The Speaker suddenly erupted, yelling at this member and that in the bawling, roiling House, demanding "Order! Order!"

After decades of somnolence, the House is really alive again.

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