War costs in grief and reputation
No one can pretend that Gordon Brown went into politics to fight military campaigns. This son of the manse did not grow up in his father’s parsonage determined to become a great Churchillian war leader.
Neither did his impassioned student leadership emphasise war. His battles were to be waged against inequality and poverty.
In a real sense then Gordon Brown is a most reluctant warrior indeed.
War costs, and costs on every front, as Mr Brown is finding to his own cost.
Whatever the crisis facing government finances – he is, even today, having to consider the possibility of sanctioning a massive billion pound emergency contract with Boeing to buy a fast track slew of new heavy lift Chinook helicopters that would be in service within not much more than a year. It’s an order that will skew military spending and force its own realignment of strategic defence spending.
But, as Mrs Thatcher would attest, war costs on the personal front too.
When ordinary members of the public engage with the leader on matters of war, it is the leader who loses.
When they have media partners like the BBC (in Mrs Thatcher’s Belgrano moment – she was challenged live, by a member of the public, with the view that the Argentine battleship was steaming away from the Falklands when she was sunk with the loss of 800 lives) or the Sun, then the danger is deep indeed.
In war, journalists themselves very easily become combatants.
Whose view you ‘allow’ in a live phone-in show or what you do in a moment of a mother’s devastating grief in the loss of her child. They each present us with very real challenges.
When I was a child, living in the aftermath of world war and in the build up and conduct of Suez, the Observer newspaper became a combatant.
A Tory minister resigned on principle – a rare event these days. The politician – Foreign Office Minister Sir Anthony Nutting, opposed Suez, so did the Observer.
The Sun’s campaign is not unusual. What is unusual is the role of the armchair generals who burp protest from the sidelines or in the House of Lords but won’t engage with the public to defend, or expand upon what they have said.
Many will at least note that Mr Brown, for whom handwriting is not the easiest activity, and whose time is in under siege every minute of the day, did engage with Mrs Janes – even if in doing so he risked a close inspection of his handwriting and spelling.
He also risked direct engagement with her by phone, but as Mrs Thatcher would have told him, or more recently Tony Blair too, Mrs Janes was likely to be very well prepped and determined to score her points.
War is a messy business. People die and reputations with them.
Is there anyone out there with an ambition to be a great war leader?
If there is, steer very well clear of them.