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Leveson Inquiry: memory and language – Brown & Murdoch

Murdoch tells the Leveson inquiry that in a telephone call the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, declared ‘war’ on his company. Something you’d remember, right?

Gordon Brown tells the Leveson inquiry that there was no such call.

We could toss a coin for who is telling ‘the truth’ and charge the other party with perjury, or we can, as I attempted to in yesterday’s blog post, analyse the language, the content, and the anatomy of memory to see what comes up.

The bone of contention: there was a call -v- the call never happened

Of course there was a call between Murdoch and Brown, more than one over the years, but a call in 2009, some time after the Sun had withdrawn its support for the Labour Party, is the call in question.

Brown says ‘the call did not happen’. What he means, perhaps, is that the call did not happen the way Rupert Murdoch says it did. Murdoch, and I find this surprising, given the way memory works, was able to briefly quote, apparently verbatim, not what just he said to Mr Brown, but what Mr Brown said to him.

Brown does not remember making a threat. Murdoch remembers the exact words. Telling the truth under oath is a problem, because you can tell the truth only according to what you recall of the time, or the conversation in question. I can barely remember what I said to someone last week. If you were ask me to recall a conversation in 2009, verbatim, I don’t think I could. Not even if it was really important, or emotional. Those kinds of conversations tend to be remembered like impressionist paintings, all loose brush strokes and overall tones. A telephone conversation is even harder to recall than a face-to-face one, because you have far less sensory information to lay down as a memory. It’s a voice coming out of the receiver – no particular visual impressions at all.

If either of Brown or Murdoch had a copy of the call, then, that would really be evidence. As it stands, we are left with this: two powerful men’s impressions of a conversation, amongst many, that they once had.

Brown will be personally invested in being the kind of statesman, or just man, that does not make threats. It’s hard to say what Murdoch is invested in, in terms of his own public image. When he appeared before MPs, on the custard pie occasion, he seemed, at times, for all the world like a fragile and doddering old man. Now, a few months later, this image is turned on its head as he puts in a polished performance of high detail memory recall worthy of Derren Brown.

I don’t believe Murdoch’s verbatim account but neither do I believe that Brown would remember exactly what he didn’t say to Murdoch, over the years. Murdoch’s business is headlines, on balance I can’t help but think that in putting those headline soundbites directly into Brown’s mouth, he has revealed the values and ethos that have got some sections of News International where they are today.

That said, I think that in the matter of Sarah Brown’s apparent ongoing friendship with Rebekah Brooks, after the Sun ran the intrusive and apparently unauthorised story about the Brown’s son, Gordon’s Brown’s claim that his wife is ‘forgiving’ doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Whilst in office as Prime Minister, the Browns appear to have bitten the bullet and played the media game, whether they liked it, or approved of it, or not. I suspect at an intellectual level, Gordon Brown rigorously separates his public and private roles and it is this dichotomy that allowed him to make statements to Leveson that made some reporters ‘jaws drop’.

Mr Brown may not say what others think they saw, but that doesn’t meant that he recognised it himself, at the time, or as a memory now.

And does it really matter anyway? As the real evidence stacks up, that which doesn’t rely on people’s memories (which are notoriously unreliable), a blurry picture is emerging. A post-modern portrait in which it seems to me that certain sections of the press and some politicians have far too symbiotic a relationship for a country that likes to bang on about democracy and (mark you, Michael Gove) free speech.

Want beef bruv?

It’s not quite what Gordon said to the Lib Dems as he promised to fall on his dirk, but it is the catchphrase that my own Raggle Taggles treated me to this weekend.

Along with nuff respec hang tough street body language.

This, they informed me, they had received instruction in from “Shanice” aged 4.

As long as they know Standard English has its place, I’m down with it.

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Front Doors

I have a new old one, and someone might make my old old one their new one, although I can’t see it myself. Over the road have a new one too, they think theirs was the first new one, because my new old one spent a while in the dining room considering life, the universe and everything.

When ours was “hung” on it’s new hinges, Over the Road wryly remarked:

What’s this – Door Wars?

All of which meant, when I was watching one the last days of Gordon Brown in Rochdale all I could think was that Mrs Duffy “the bigoted woman” had the worst kind of narrow front door. The skinny type of UPVC door that makes me claustrophobic just to look at it, never mind try and enter it.

Appparently Mrs Duffy has engaged a PR firm, but The Sun gave up interviewing her because there wasn’t much more to add. She lives in Rochdale, has voted Labour all her life, is concerned about all the Eastern Europeans coming over here, but is definitely no bigot.

I told someone they were being racist this week in the supermarket, they had made the usual disclaimer before making a racist statement. The ubiquitous disclaimer goes along the lines of:

I’m not a racist but…

Ok sure, that’s what I think when I hear this crap. Then I think about these people: actually I don’t know what’s in your heart and neither do I care because, however odious I find it, you are entitled to your own opinion but, in my experience, stuff that sounds racist usually is.

What I think those people mean when they say that thing is that they tend towards the indolent type of racism but they wouldn’t actually bother to do much about it, apart from bitch and moan in the supermarket to their friends. But if that Nick Griffin and his ugly lot smarmed round your street what then?
My worry is that you might flap a non-critical, non-racist ear in their direction.

Brown has said he is mortified, he also said Mrs Duffy’s question about immigration annoyed him. It would have annoyed me too.

I would have asked her:

What about all the Eastern Europeans Mrs Duffy, what about them?

A power player in Door Wars

But then I’m not trying to get my trotters back into this front door a week on Friday.

Gordon’s Turn in Copenhagen

I caught a speech by our leader on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference today. I have been trying to follow these shenanigans a bit. Last night I fell asleep listening to some wonderful African ladies on the matter. I could understand their points perfectly so eloquently were they made, even though I nodded off.

So I hoped the PM would have something inspirational to say before Obama turns up to knock heads together. Sadly Gordon said “turn, world, history, turn, world, turning” so many times I got dizzy. Back to the African ladies I think.

No room for manoeuvre there

What Gordon needs is a little fizz

According to a scientific report today (that I consider wholly worthwhile!) a lot of the flavour to be found in champagne is delivered by the bubbles themselves. So they aren’t just empty vessels then…

Having considered this phenomenon, I have decided that is what our own dear Prime Minister needs. I call him dear because his wife practically insisted upon it in her warm-up cheerleading for Gordon himself. Call me a wizened old witch but why do they think Sarah Brown, eloquent though she may be, should be the one to tell us why we should all love Gordon like she does. Wheeling out the mrs is a bad move. He also trundled out his eyesight, or lack thereof and the “vayue” of the NHS. I am sorry the man is blind in one eye, but I don’t want to hear about it as political issue. There’s a chance they are taking equality and diversity a tad too far, even for my libertarian taste.

Why can’t Gordon pronounce his double “ll”s? He pronounces them as “y”s. Fifteen biyion pounds, a briyiant idea, the miyions of people… He’s in good company though, my 5yo does exactly the same.

Gordon is a conundrum. I am sure he is a decent bloke and he talks a right lot of sense. I am not sure his sums add up and I have hated the constant re-regulation under Labour over the years. My hair stands on end when I hear what he said about “children giving birth to children” and the idea of a homes for them. In practice there are mother and baby units for them already and I baulk at the idea that all teenagers need extra help to be good parents simply because of their age. I teach parents 19 and under. I worry about certain aspects of their lives but, hand on heart, it is rarely because of their parenting skills. In fact, his whole section on teen “tearaways” smelt of scapegoating in the extreme. He spoke of crackdowns on estates too. How would you feel tonight if you are a teen parent living on an estate? Entirely unlikely to have listened to him in the first place I’d warrant. Shameless guillotine crowd pleasing Gordon! The man is of the manse and a puritan at heart and he lacks the real flavour that comes with some fizz.

I have tried hard but I conclude, regrettably, that he comes across as cold as charity.

He’s gonna “say the words”


I love you!
That the world is flat
That God doesn’t exist
That oil is going to run out next week…
or perhaps
Marry Me?

No, apparently, and according to the news last night and this morning Gordon Brown, Labour Prime Minister, is going to say the words:- “public spending cuts”.

We are also told today, the first anniversary of Lehman Brothers collapse, that we must never let another bank fail. Maybe I am simple folk but we will be taking money away from our services in the future having propped up the banking system last year and although I have listened to a lot of explanations as to why this had to be so – I am still not feeling it.

Allowing such a powerful section of society to fall on its knees at the temple of Mammon and our fundamentally not understanding how it works (and why should we, as they sliced and diced to minimise their risk which they weren’t underwriting themselves anyway!) has come round to bite us badly in our collective bum.

Reportedly first to go is the extension of maternity pay from 9 months to a year, although parents may now have a choice as to who can take the leave (and pay). What will be next is anyone’s guess although the benefit bill will surely be re-crunched. I’m not saying that all cuts are necessarily bad, being a lean and mean governing machine is in all our interests surely given the mind-boggling amount of UK debt. I will confess though to a selfish thought as I wonder what impact it might have on our good ship as we work respectively in housing and adult education…

The Lib Dems reckon they can make the necessary savings without cutting front line services – that’s going to be interesting. I don’t know why I have bothered mentioning them though, if David Cameron is not nailed on to end up in No. 10 at the next election, then I am going to eat my laptop; possibly a more palatable meal than the “words” Gordon will be eating this afternoon.

The Worship of Mammon - Evelyn de Morgan

"The Worship of Mammon" - Evelyn de Morgan