Leading article: A vicious and unfair personal attack

Tuesday 10 November 2009 01:00 GMT

Jacqui Janes was clearly upset by the letter of condolence she received last month from Gordon Brown in the wake of the death of her son, Jamie, in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it does seem grossly unfair of Ms Janes to interpret the letter as an "insult" from the Prime Minister.

If the letter was clumsily drafted, the responsibility surely lies with Mr Brown's poor eyesight and bad handwriting rather than any intention to offend. Moreover, the sentiments expressed in the letter, which Ms Janes has made public, were entirely sensitive. There was nothing in the slightest bit "disrespectful" about its contents. If Ms Janes chooses to interpret the letter as a deliberate insult, that is her right. But the rest of us can make up our own minds about the Prime Minister's intentions when he drafted it. Sadly some elements of the media have used this unfortunate business to mount a viciously personal attack on Mr Brown.

The Sun newspaper, which last month announced with great fanfare its support for the Conservative Party, has chosen to fan the flames of this affair in a quite disgraceful manner. It has used Ms Janes' reaction, along with accusations that the Prime Minister failed to bow his head during the remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph at the weekend, to imply that he is personally indifferent to the fate of British troops and does not truly respect the sacrifices they have made.

This is an incendiary suggestion at a time when British troops are engaged in a fierce anti-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. British service personnel have endured their most deadly year since the Falklands War. The mood of the country towards our military presence in Afghanistan is increasingly volatile. Responsible politicians and media outlets need to tread carefully while feelings are running so high.

A robust public debate on the Government's strategy in Afghanistan is entirely justified. But Mr Brown's political opponents should think very carefully before attempting to present the Prime Minister as somehow personally hostile to the best interests of British troops. These attacks are not only unfair; in the present febrile climate they risk being downright irresponsible.

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